Baghdad, (AFP) – Authorities have arrested three suspected senior leaders of Al-Qaeda’s front group in Iraq, including its self-styled minister of defence, a spokesman said on Sunday.
Also among the group detained were two brothers suspected of masterminding major attacks in the central Iraqi province of Diyala, defence ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari told AFP.
“Iraqi soldiers arrested Saleem Khalid al-Zawbayi, the minister of defence for the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI),” Askari said.
“He was arrested on Wednesday evening south of Baghdad,” he added.
Zawbayi is suspected of organising a July 18 suicide bombing in the town of Radwaniyah, west of Baghdad, targeting anti-Qaeda militiamen being paid their wages. Forty-five people were killed and 46 wounded.
Askari also said that two brothers — Jaabar and Qadoori Radhi Khamis al-Zaidi — believed to have been responsible for operations in Diyala, were arrested in the northern city of Tikrit, where they were based.
The two were ISI “emirs”, according to Askari.
The arrests came as Iraqi security forces pressed a manhunt for four suspected Al-Qaeda members who escaped from a jail on the outskirts of Baghdad last week.
The four who escaped from the Cropper detention facility were the ISI’s suspected ministers of justice and finance, along with a “judge” and another suspected Al-Qaeda member, a police source said.
Their disappearance has been a major embarrassment for the Iraqi government, which only a week ago took over the Cropper facility from the US military.
“We are working with the Iraqi ministry of justice to do an investigation to determine how this exactly could have happened,” Lieutenant General Robert Cone, the deputy commanding general for US forces in Iraq, said on Friday.
“It certainly is disturbing.”