Captured Al Qaida cite Iran as transit route for sleeper agents

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

A crackdown on Al Qaida in northern Iraq by pro-U.S. Kurdish forces has confirmed the transfer of hundreds sleeper agents into the region by way of Iran.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has arrested at least five suspected insurgents from the Al Qaida-aligned Ansar Al Islam. Sources in the PUK, led by Jalal Talabani, said the suspects were planning to carry out a series of strikes against U.S. and Kurdish interests in northern Iraq.

The Ansar plans included a plot to bomb a celebration for Talabani in wake of his appointment as president of the interim Iraqi Governing Council. This was the first time a Kurd was placed in power in Iraq.

About 500 operatives from Ansar are said to be deployed in northern Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported. Some of them were said to have been involved in bombings in Baghdad.

PUK sources said the suspects have confessed to being operatives for Ansar. The sources quoted the suspects as saying that they were sent to northern Iraqi from neighboring Iran.

Western intelligence sources have warned that Ansar has targeted the Kurdish region of northern Iraq for its next campaign. The sources said Ansar has sent hundreds of sleeper agents around such cities as Mosul and Kirkuk.

The United States has repeatedly warned Iran and Syria to prevent infiltration of insurgents from their borders. So far, U.S. officials said, both countries have failed to halt the infiltration over the Iraqi border.

The PUK arrests come as ethnic tension has erupted in the northern city of Kirkuk. Overnight Monday, the city saw heavy fighting in which nine people were killed or injured in an attack on Talabani's headquarters. The attacks included automatic gun fire at a police station in the city.

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