The Iraqi Ministry of Interior announced Tuesday (February 14th) the arrest of 18 suspects believed to be members of al-Qaeda in a security operation in the Ishaqi district south of Tikrit in Salah al-Din province.
The suspects included the "prime operative" of al-Qaeda operations north of Baghdad, according to Iraqi officials.
Major General Adel Dahham, spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, told Mawtani, "Seventy security officers from the federal police and the Iraqi Army 4th Infantry Division arrested the suspects while they were hiding inside a building and seized weapons and explosives that were inside."
Dahham said that the security force used helicopters "because of the dangers posed by the gunmen".
He said fierce clashes erupted as the security force approached the building where the suspects were hiding and continued for 30 minutes until all the suspects surrendered.
"One of the detainees is Shahim al-Abbasi, the emir of the group who is accused of committing different terrorist acts, including the attack on the Salah al-Din provincial council, taking hostages, and killing and wounding 122 people," Dahham said.
He said three of the detainees are suicide bombers, and two are Iraqi while the third is an Arab national.
Dahham said the security force took the gunmen to a temporary detention centre as a first step before having them face the Iraqi judiciary.
Colonel Jassem al-Sammarae, deputy commander of the Salah al-Din police, said "Al-Abbasi is considered one of the figures from al-Qaeda in Iraq's first generation. He is extremely dangerous, and he possesses important information that we hope to obtain."
He told Mawtani that Iraqi forces "were chasing him everywhere, but he had the ability to move between cities quickly. He could be described as the prime operative behind terrorist operations in areas north of Baghdad".
During the operation, the security forces uncovered huge quantities of weapons, explosives, rockets, explosive charges, car bombs, and explosives belts, officials said.
Hassan al-Bazi, an advisor to the Salah al-Din province on security and defence affairs, said forces from the Iraqi Army's 7th Engineering Brigade, were able to destroy the depot three hours after transferring the weapons and explosives to a military base outside Tikrit.
"The depot was sufficient to keep al-Qaeda fighting and carrying out terrorist operations for more than three months," al-Bazi said.
He told Mawtani the arrest of the suspects "occurred after the Iraqi forces received intelligence information indicating they were gathering inside their stronghold in a special meeting".
He said the operation is considered the fruition of efforts, co-operation, and collaboration between the Iraqi people, the army, and the police.
Hameed Jassem, the mayor of Ishaqi, praised the security operation.
"It removed a serious threat from our lives, and the residents feel more secure than at any time in the past," Jassem said.
Munaf Ali, 40, a taxi driver in Ishaqi, said, "We were pleased by the news of arresting the terrorists. We were worried that they might gain control of the district and start to sow terror amongst us."