The Iraqi government is more than doubling the cash reward for information on top al-Qaeda figures, including some believed to be trying to create a new operations hub in neighbouring Syria, security officials said Friday (December 14th).
Leaders and elements of al-Qaeda in Iraq are increasing their movements in Syria in efforts to create a new base of operations by exploiting the current instability in the country, according to Brig. Gen. Hussein al-Musawi, commander of the interior ministry's rapid intervention forces.
They include: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq; Anas Hassan Khattab, the organisation's general co-ordinator; and Maysara al-Jubury, former spokesperson for the organisation and current operative in charge of recruiting suicide bombers.
Iraqis who provide information on men wanted by security forces for their involvement in major terrorism cases will now receive 250 million dinars ($250,000) instead of 100 million dinars ($86,000) according to Gen. Ali Ghaidan, commander of the Iraqi army ground forces.
The rewards also apply to 14 other al-Qaeda leaders, including Ali Khalaf al-Majmaie and Jawad Hayes al-Dulaimi, Ghaidan said.
The names of these leaders, who are "the main engine for violence in the country" and whose "arrest will lead to considerable stability in citizens' lives", were posted on street billboards, as well as in public buildings, markets and at security checkpoints throughout Iraq, he said.
On September 18th, Iraqi border guards arrested a gunman in the Rabia area on the Syrian-Iraqi border, al-Musawi said, adding that the gunman confessed al-Qaeda elements in Iraq were planning operations in Syria.
"The man belonged to al-Qaeda and had letters addressed to terrorist elements on the movement of other elements between Iraq and Syria," he added.
"The letters also contained information confirming that Jabhat al-Nusra is attempting to recruit Syrian children and teenagers in an attempt to exploit the zeal of participating in the [Syrian] revolution," al-Musawi said.
The gunman also confessed that "Jabhat al-Nusra is attempting to create parallels between terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria by using the same tactics used in Iraq", he added.
The al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders have been travelling back and forth between Iraq and Syria since the political crisis in Syria escalated more than a year and a half ago, al-Musawi said.
The wanted men, along with Jabhat al-Nusra members, have been moving between the two countries through Rabia in Ninawa province, Peesh Khabor in Dohuk province and al-Qaim in Anbar province, he said.
Al-Musawi said that these elements are exploiting the Syrian regime's lack of control over its border with Iraq, adding that they aim to create in Syria a springboard for terrorist activities to compensate for losses in Iraq.
They are "instigating violence [in Syria] similar to the way they instigated violence in Iraq", he said. "They are now training other al-Qaeda members in Syria on how to kill, set explosives, fire rockets and manufacture explosive charges."
"They also have links to other terrorist groups belonging to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Eritrea", al-Musawi added.
Al-Musawi said the organisation's goal "is not to defend the Syrian people, but to position itself inside Syria".
"They are a source of evil wherever they are," he said, calling on the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) to help arrest the suspects if they are found outside Iraq.
"We hope that Iraqis will maintain contact with us, and alongside the efforts of security forces, we hope to arrest them at any moment," he added. "We appeal to everyone to co-operate with us for the sake of a secure Iraq."
Al-Musawi said telephone lines for the interior and defence ministries, the national intelligence service, and army and police units operating in every city are open and free of charge.
The numbers that citizens can call include 103 and 104, 5603 -- a new line supervised by the defence ministry -- the landlines 173101, 8173102, 8173103, 8173104, 8173105, 8173106, 8173107 and 8173108, or the number 400, which belongs to the national intelligence service.
Iraqi Defence Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi told Mawtani the wanted men undertook attacks that left numerous victims, including women and children, adding that they worked to ignite sectarian and ethnic strife in the country.
He said security forces will deal confidentially with Iraqis who report these figures, their whereabouts, the areas they frequent and the people they deal with.
"These terrorist figures are not only a threat to Iraq, but also to all countries in the region because they are like a malignant disease that spreads and metastasises to kill the largest number of people," he said.
Ghaidan described the attacks the men organised as "massive" and said they killed and injured hundreds of people and displaced many Iraqi families.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is "the primary engine for all terrorist strikes in Iraq" and was also involved in attacks in the Kurdistan region, the 2005 Amman hotel bombings, and in "acts of violence in other countries as well", he said.
Maysara al-Jubury "is involved in recruiting Arab and foreign suicide bombers and is considered a highly-influential al-Qaeda leader", Ghaidan said.
Anas Hasan Khattab "was involved in the terrorist attack that targeted the United Nations (UN) building in 2003, which killed and wounded scores of people including the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative [in Iraq] Sergio de Mello, and a number of other UN employees", he said.
Khattab is also involved in blowing up military bases and police centres and targeting innocent citizens, Ghaidan said.
"Iraqi security forces are making serious efforts to collect intelligence [and] military and field data to pursue them," he told Mawtani, adding that security forces "made great strides in 2012 in terms of gathering information on them and a full description of their facial features and methods of movement".
"We are optimistic we will quickly capture them if citizens co-operate with security forces," Ghaidan said.
Syrian opposition members have said that some jihadist groups operating in Syria bear no relation to the opposition and work towards goals inconsistent with the revolution.
Asked about media reports of rising influence of jihadist groups such as the Brigade of Islam, Descendants of the Prophet Brigade and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, Syrian opposition members said such groups have no place in Syrian society.
"Do not fear for Syria because of the religious extremists, for in reality, Syrian society does not accept those extremist ideas and has historically rejected them as alien to its fabric, and it will oppose them in the future as it does now," Abdulbaset Sieda, former head of the Syrian National Council (SNC) and member of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, told Al-Shorfa.
Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo contributed to this report.