Hundreds of Iraqi Muslims and Christians in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood took to the streets in celebration following the announcement that the perpetrators of the attacks on the Sayedat al-Najat Church were arrested.
Residents of the neighborhood that saw the October 31st attacks launched fireworks and played patriotic songs in cafes, shops and residences.
The Iraqi Ministry of Interior announced Saturday (November 27th) the arrest of the terrorist cell that is believed to be responsible for the attack that targeted the church in central Baghdad late last month. Scores of people were killed and wounded.
Security forces made the arrests during a raid on November 24th at dawn targeting a residential building in the al-Dawoodi neighborhood in central Baghdad. The building was used by the suspects as headquarters, Maj. Gen. Ahmed Abu Ragheef, director of internal affairs in the Ministry of Interior, said in a press conference held Saturday evening in Baghdad.
Abu Ragheef said the group consisted of 12 suspected terrorists, including the "military leader" of al-Qaeda in Baghdad, Sheikh Hudhayfa al-Batawi, who replaced Manaf al-Rawi who is currently in custody.
Iraqi forces also killed a suspect believed to be a senior al-Qaeda leader called Abu Ammar al-Najadi, he said.
"The terrorist cell is affiliated with al-Qaeda organization," Abu Ragheef said. "They also confessed to their responsibility for the attacks that targeted the Central Bank of Iraq and al-Arabiya satellite television channel, and also for the robbery of jewelers' stores in al-Baya area, Baghdad, and the 16 bombings that have recently rocked Baghdad."
During the operation, Iraqi forces seized six tons of explosives, a large number of explosives vests, car bombs and a group of bottles filled with poisonous materials. According to Abu Ragheef, al-Qaeda planned to use this material to attack the Green Zone gates, Iraqi ministries, hotels and to target Christian civilians.
Col. Fadhil Abbas of Baghdad Federal Police confirmed to Mawtani that, "The terrorist group is directly responsible for the attack that targeted the church and for other bloody attacks."
Abbas noted that al-Batawi was recruiting suicide bombers, training them and bringing them into Iraq illegally to carry out attacks.
The arrests came following vigorous efforts and intensive intelligence gathering, Abbas said. The efforts were based on the results of earlier investigations conducted by the Iraqi police after arresting a number of terrorists who confessed to carrying out a number of major terrorist attacks linked to the church attack.
A unit of Iraqi Special Forces stormed the al-Qaeda hideout.
The Iraqi forces engaged the suspects holed up inside the house, Abbas said. As a result, al-Najadi was killed and another suspect was wounded. Two of al-Batawi's senior aides were also arrested.
"The arrest of the 12 terrorists led to important information which in turn led to storming five al-Qaeda dens on the same day," Abbas said. "Al-Qaeda was using these five dens for camouflage and to move from one to another. One den was a workshop for making car bombs and it contained large quantities of explosives vests, sticky bombs, silencer-equipped guns, and different explosives weighing six tons, as well as stolen cars that are booby-trapped and set for detonation."
He noted that al-Batawi was posing as a dentist to move around the different neighborhoods of Baghdad.
"The terrorist group represents the top of chain of command in al-Qaeda, and the operation represents a major achievement for the Iraqi police this year in Baghdad," Baghdad police spokesperson Lt. Col. Mushtaq Talib told Mawtani.
Talib said the suspects were transferred to a security detention center to complete investigations pending their arraignment. He added that the results of the investigations will be made public to expose "the criminality and ugliness of this terrorist group" before all Iraqi people.
Hajja Amina Adil, 65, insisted on accompanying her grandchildren to share the joy of residents in the Abu Aqlam area.
"Al-Qaeda no longer represents a problem for us," Adil said. "They have become weak, and each day a group of them is arrested. I wish to live until next year so that my eyes can see the declaration of final victory against terrorism in full."
She added, "I will celebrate with everyone, but without dancing. The tears that I shed out of happiness are enough for the world to know that all Iraqis are rejecting [terrorism]."