Samarra, Asharq Al-Awsat – As thousands of Shiites arrive in Samarra, 120 km north of the capital Baghdad, to visit the two Al-Askari shrines to commemorate the birth of Imam Ali al-Hadi, the Iraqi security forces have discovered five containers of chlorine gas primed for detonation south of the city.
A security source in the Samarra police told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the arrival in the city has been continuing for two days and thousands of Iraqis have arrived to commemorate the birth of Imam Ali al-Hadi, peace be upon him.” The number of arrivals is expected to reach around 1million.
The source, which preferred to remain unidentified, pointed out that the security forces are deployed at the entrances to the city and outside it and between the governorates from which the visitors are coming “and no significant security violations have occurred” and stressed that “the visit will be made amid high control by the security forces.” But another security source said earlier yesterday that the Iraqi security forces discovered five containers of chlorine primed for detonation. The German News Agency cited the source as saying that “the Samarra support command discovered on Monday night five containers of chlorine in Al-Mutasim district 20 km southeast of Samarra.” It added that the “containers were hidden in a garden and primed for detonation as they were tied to explosive and detonation devices.”
It is believed that the attack was planned to target the Shiite visitors. This is the second visit to the shrine which was the target of two bombings, the first on 22 February 2006 which resulted in the two golden domes’ collapse after which a big wave of sectarian violence and displacement erupted in many Iraqi cities while the second bombing occurred in the middle of June 2007 and destroyed what was left of the shrines’ minarets.
Samarra lies 120 km to the north of the capital Baghdad and is a district in the Salah-al-Din Governorate whose center is Tikrit, 175 km north of the capital, and has an estimated population of 430,000. The repair and maintenance of the shrines began after the security situation stabilized and two years of tension that killed and wounded many Iraqis. Visits by individuals then began and were followed by groups as normal life returned to the place. Former Iranian President Hashemi-Rafsanjani also visited the shrines earlier this year as a sign of the stable situation.