November 25, 2004

Basra Police Arrest Five Arab Fighters

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Five Arab foreign fighters who had escaped from Fallujah were arrested near southern Basra, where they were planning to attack coalition bases and police stations, authorities said Thursday. In Fallujah, the U.S. military said it had uncovered the largest arms cache yet inside the mosque of an insurgent leader.

Basra Police Chief Brig. Mohammed Khazim said the men were stopped late Wednesday at a checkpoint in Qurnah, about 37 miles north of Basra, and "personal weapons" were found in their four-wheel-drive vehicle.

The men said they had come from Fallujah, the former rebel bastion where U.S. Marine officers say they have found enough weapons to refuel a nationwide rebellion.

Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan said earlier this week that about 60 Arab fighters have been arrested during the assault on Fallujah. The U.S. and Iraqi leadership have repeatedly maintained that foreign fighters from neighboring Arabic countries join the insurgency.

The captured fighters were identified as Mohammed Faleh and Bassem Faleh, from Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Hassan and Walid Mohammed, from Tunisia, and Mohammed al-Hadi, from Libya, he said.

The men left Fallujah four days ago, traveling to Baghdad for a couple days during which they worked with another group to carry out attacks in the capital. They did not say what kind of attacks.

They said they then headed to Basra with plans to attack police stations and coalition bases in the area. The bulk of Britain's 8,500 troops in Iraq are based around the southern port city of Basra.

The men said they were supposed to be assisted by another group that had already infiltrated the Basra, Khazim said. They were told that the weapons needed to carry out the attacks were already hidden inside the city, he said.

In Baghdad, the U.S. Embassy said Thursday that an American civilian working with the embassy was killed during an attack outside the Green Zone.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell identified the man as James Mollen, a State Department education specialist who served as a consultant to Iraq's minister of education and the minister of higher education.

"Jim dedicated his life to a noble cause: improving the quality of education for thousands of Iraqis," Powell said in a statement Wednesday.

Spokesman Pete Mitchell said Mollen was traveling in a vehicle outside the protected Green Zone, which houses the U.S. and Iraqi leadership, when he came under gunfire Wednesday afternoon.

In Fallujah, U.S. and Iraqi forces have uncovered the largest-yet weapons cache in the one-time rebel bastion of Fallujah, finding the stockpile inside a mosque led by a key insurgent leader, the military said Thursday.

Troops found small arms, artillery shells, heavy machine guns, and anti-tank mines Wednesday inside the Saad Abi Bin Waqas Mosque in central Fallujah where Sunni rebel leader and imam Abdullah al-Janabi often spoke, the U.S. military said in a statement.

The military, which didn't provide specific numbers of weapons found, called the discovery the "largest weapons cache to date in the city of Fallujah."

Troops also found what may be a mobile bomb-making factory housed in a truck as well as mortar systems, rocket-propelled grenades, launchers, recoilless rifles and parts of surface to air weapons systems elsewhere in the mosque compound, the statement said.

The troops also found "documents that detailed insurgent interrogations of recent kidnap victims," the statement said, without elaborating.

U.S. and Iraqi troops opened the Fallujah assault on Nov. 8 and continue to sweep the city amid sporadic gunbattles with rebel holdouts.

After U.S. Marines lifted an earlier siege of Fallujah in April, central government control collapsed and al-Janabi, a local imam and member of an important local clan, emerged as a major powerbroker.

Al-Janabi, in his 50s, headed the Mujahedeen Shura Council, which set up Islamic courts that meted out Islamic punishments, executed suspected spies and enforced a strict Islamic lifestyle in Fallujah.

Iraqi leaders have said that al-Janabi, along with other key insurgents leaders such as Omar Hadid and Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, managed to escape from the city.

Meanwhile, an explosion hit a domestic pipeline Thursday that runs from northern Kirkuk to the Beiji refinery, oil officials said.

The early morning sabotage took place in the Fatha area, about 70 miles southwest of Kirkuk, said a source with the state-owned Northern Oil Company. It was unclear what impact the attack will have on domestic production. Repairs will take about five days, the official said.