BAGHDAD, Iraq, (AP) – The U.S. military said a captured al-Qaeda suspect and members of his cell were “in the final stages” of planning an attack on the Green Zone. An unprecedented curfew prompted by the arrest left millions of Baghdadis stranded at home on Saturday without supplies during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The U.S. military said the suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq member was arrested late Friday at the home of senior Sunni Arab political leader Adnan al-Dulaimi, where he was working as a personal bodyguard.
Al-Dulaimi is a member of the Iraqi Accordance Front — the largest Sunni coalition in the 275-member parliament, where it holds 44 seats — and the military was quick to distance the politician from the raid, stressing that he was “not the target.”
“This operation in no way implies Dr. al-Dulaimi was associated with any illegal activity,” the military said, adding that the suspect was captured in a security trailer at al-Dulaimi’s home.
After the arrest, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was advised by the U.S. military to shut down the capital and order its 7 million residents to stay at home.
“They have information terrorists entered Baghdad,” Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Kaim Khalaf told The Associated Press. “The prime minister agreed to give our security forces the freedom of movement to raid certain places.”
The curfew was rare both in its scope and severity, catching many residents of Baghdad by surprise. Many people are fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, eating and drinking only after sunset, and they were caught without supplies and fresh bread — a Baghdad staple. Most residents did not have a chance to shop on Friday because of a regular, weekly vehicle curfew to prevent attacks against mosques during prayers.
The U.S. military said the suspected terrorist, identified as Khudhir Farhan, and seven members of his al-Qaeda cell “were in the final stages of launching a series” of car bomb attacks “possibly involving suicide vests.”
“The detained individual is suspected of involvement in the planning of a multi-vehicle suicide operation inside Baghdad’s International Zone,” the military said, referring to the heavily fortified Green Zone.
Khalaf said the “intelligence information we received was that there are car bombs and that terrorist Takfiris wearing belts with explosives have entered Baghdad to target civilians.” Takfiri is a reference to Sunni Arab extremists.
The Green Zone, also known as the International Zone, is located in downtown Baghdad and is surrounded by layers of concrete blast walls and guarded by Coalition forces and the Iraqi army. The Iraqi government lives and works there, the parliament is housed there and it is also home to the U.S. embassy.
As a bodyguard for al-Dulaimi, Farhan could have had access to the parliament, often attended by the prime minister and his staff, and possibly to offices used by Cabinet members. It is doubtful he could ever have reached the heavily guarded U.S. embassy compound inside the Green Zone.
Farhan also was suspected of having links to a car bomb network operating in the southern area of Baghdad, the military said.
Immediately after his arrest Friday afternoon, al-Dulaimi denied the bodyguard had any terrorist links, but when contacted by the AP on Saturday he acknowledged he could have been mistaken.
“That individual joined my residence as a guard no more than a month ago, therefore I haven’t got complete data about his background,” al-Dulaimi said. “Anyhow, they are only suspicions about his involvement, which have not been proved.”
The U.S. command said al-Dulaimi “did meet the force and offered his home to be searched, which was declined as the operation had no association with him. They only searched the security trailer and the suspect’s vehicle.”
There have been fears that insurgents would try to stage a spectacular attack during Ramadan following a series of calls from al-Qaeda in Iraq’s new leader.
Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, has ordered intensified attacks against Americans and the country’s Shiite majority, which dominates the government and parliament.
Al-Muhajer — who is believed to have succeeded slain al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — began issuing the calls — including orders to kidnap Westerners — on Sept. 7.
He has followed al-Zarqawi’s belief that starting a sectarian war between the Shiites and Sunni Arabs is the best way to defeat the United States in Iraq.
Following his calls, attacks intensified against both Shiites and the Coalition, and a senior U.S. military official said the first week of Ramadan was the worst for suicide bombings since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Sectarian violence has surged in recent months and has brought the country to the brink of civil war.
Although Baghdad was quiet Saturday, police said violence persisted in other areas of the country.
Gunmen killed Malik Jebbar, an Iraqi man who had been working as an interpreter for the U.S. military, in an area about 60 miles south of Baghdad. Another person was killed and five others were wounded in nearby Iskandariyah when a bomb exploded in the city center.
In Tal Afar, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, police opened fire on a suspected car bomber. The vehicle detonated, killing two and wounding 30 others, police Lt. Nejim Abdullah said.
Baghdad police on Saturday found six corpses in the eastern section of the capital, more apparent victims of the sectarian death squads that roam the city.
Two other bodies were turned in to the morgue in Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad.
North of Kut, a policeman was shot and killed by unknown assailants outside his home, police said.