73 killed in twin suicide blasts in Baghdad
The Iraqi military announced the capture yesterday of the man they say is the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, as at least 73 people were killed in two bloody suicide bombings.
"Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was arrested today in Baghdad," Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qasim Atta told AFP. "It was Iraqi forces who arrested him based on an intelligence tipoff from someone."
Baghdadi is said to be the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, a self-styled umbrella organisation for al-Qaeda affiliated insurgent groups fighting US and Iraqi forces.
He has been reported captured or killed several times in the past.
But the US military claims there is nobody called Baghdadi in the Islamic State of Iraq, and that it is merely an Internet-based organisation.
The Iraqi military's announcement came amid a surge in bloodshed in two attacks on Thursday.
In the deadliest strike, at least 45 people, including Iranian pilgrims, were killed when a suicide bomber struck a restaurant in a town northeast of Baghdad, a military official said.
Another 28 people, including children, were killed in a suicide attack on a police patrol in southeastern Baghdad, defence and interior ministry officials told AFP.
Security has improved dramatically in Iraq over the past two years as local and US forces crack down on al-Qaeda fighters, but attacks targeting security forces are still common in some parts of the country, including the capital.
In Muqdadiyah northeast of Baquba, at least 45 people were killed and 55 wounded in the attack on the restaurant, which was packed with Iranian pilgrims on their way to the Shia holy city of Karbala south of Baghdad.
Baquba is capital of the ethnically and religiously mixed Diyala province, which still sees sporadic attacks despite the security improvements elsewhere in Iraq.
In southeastern Baghdad, another 28 people were killed in the attack on a police patrol in the mixed district of Al-Riyadh, officials said.
"Iraqi police were distributing aid to displaced families when a suicide bomber blew himself up," an interior ministry official said. "At least 10 police and five children are among 28 dead."
Fifty-two people were also wounded in the blast, defence and interior ministry officials said.
A second interior ministry source said the suicide bomber was a woman, but this could not immediately be confirmed.
A hospital official told AFP that families were fighting to discover if their relatives were listed as dead on a casualty list.
Sixteen people, including the 10 policemen, five children and a woman, were confirmed dead at the hospital, he said, with 25 wounded receiving treatment there.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned on Sunday at a meeting of senior security officials that the danger from "terrorist cells" was far from over.
His remarks followed an upsurge in violence over recent weeks after several months in which there was a steady reduction in the number of attacks.
"We have succeeded in re-establishing security, but maintaining it is more difficult," Maliki told the meeting of senior police officers.
Iraq's 560,000 police and 260,000 soldiers are to assume greater responsibility for security as US forces withdraw from all cities by June 30 and from the country as a whole by the end of 2011.
Violence has plummeted over the past two years as American and Iraqi forces have allied with local tribes and former insurgents to bring calm to vast swathes of the country.
However more than 100 people have been killed since the start of April, according to an AFP count based on reports from security officials.