Investigators struggle to identify those behind bombings




By Mark Huband in London

Financial Times, 28 October 2003

Forensics experts and other investigators were already at work in Baghdad yesterday, when five near-simultaneous suicide car bombings were launched across the Iraqi capital.

Their immediate task had been to investigate the multiple missile attack on Sunday on the city’s Rashid hotel, which killed one American and narrowly missed Paul Wolfowitz, the visiting US deputy secretary for defence.

The evidence left by the attackers has provided insights into the limited extent of their planning and their rudimentary skill with weapons, a senior intelligence official said. More difficult has been the task of identifying the organisers of the attacks.

US Brigadier General Mark Hertling said in Baghdad yesterday that there were “indicators” the latest attacks had “a mode of operation of foreign fighters”. He added that one attacker, shot and injured in one of the attacks, had been carrying a Syrian passport.

“He’s a foreign fighter. He had a Syrian passport and the policemen claim that as he was shot and fell that he said he was Syrian,” Gen Hertling added.

As many as several hundred foreign fighters are known to have travelled to Iraq but he is the first to be caught, investigators say.

Intelligence officers and investigators say they have developed reliable sources of information about resistance to the US-led occupation among former loyalists of the ruling Ba’ath party.

A warning had been received of an imminent attack on hotels in Baghdad a day before that on the Rashid, security officials in Baghdad said yesterday, though informers had said the attack was expected to take the form of a car bomb.

Investigators said yesterday that a primed car bomb had been reported by Ba’athist sources to have been hidden in the city. Three previous warnings provided by these sources were accurate, the investigators said, suggesting another attack could be in the making.

It is unclear whether yesterday’s multiple car bombings were linked to the attack on the Rashid. Unlike three previous attacks, the investigators did not have prior warning from their sources of the carnage that started at the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross yesterday.

“I think we know who was responsible for the attack at the Rashid,” said David Claridge, managing director of Janusian, a security company advising foreign businesses operating in Iraq. “I’m pretty sure that it was Saddam loyalists. We knew that this attack was going to take place,” he said.

Investigators have found it far more difficult to obtain intelligence on the activities of Islamist groups and activists associated with the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, issued a statement nine days ago in which he declared that Iraq had become the new “jihad”, or holy war, against the US. But it is unclear how extensive the al-Qaeda presence inside Iraq is.



© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.