AFP: US commanders suspect that an Iraqi militant cell with links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards was behind last week’s abduction of five British contractors, a senior military official said on Tuesday. BAGHDAD, June 5, 2007 (AFP) – US commanders suspect that an Iraqi militant cell with links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards was behind last week’s abduction of five British contractors, a senior military official said on Tuesday.
The five, a management consultant and his four bodyguards, were kidnapped by a large team of gunmen dressed in Iraqi police uniforms on May 29 during a visit to an Iraqi finance ministry office in east Baghdad.
A senior US officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that investigations pointed to the operation having been carried out by members of the “Khazali network”, an Iraqi extremist cell with links to Iranian forces.
The leaders of the group — Qais Khazali and his brother Laith — were arrested in March by US forces after they were implicated in an attack in January in which five American soldiers were captured and killed.
The military believes that elements of the group are still at large and that last week’s well-organised daylight attack bears its hallmarks.
The US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, has previously said that Khazali’s gang has received supplies, training and funds from the Qods Force, the covert wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
But officials have been careful to underline that they can prove no direct link between attacks in Iraq and orders coming from the Tehran government.
“The Iranian involvement has really become much clearer to us and brought into much more focus during the interrogation of the members, the heads of the Khazali network,” Petraeus said in April.
“They were provided substantial funding, training on Iranian soil, advanced explosive munitions and technologies as well as run of the mill arms and ammunition, in some cases advice and in some cases even a degree of direction.”
In 2004, Qais Khazali was a spokesman for Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s movement during fighting between his Mahdi Army and US forces.
Sadr’s movement has since disowned him and is trying to portray itself as a legitimate political movement, opposed to the US and British military presence in Iraq, but seeking a peaceful solution to the standoff.
Coalition commanders, however, say Mahdi Army elements are still involved in attacks on US and Iraqi security forces and there are near nightly raids by special forces into Sadr City, the movement’s east Baghdad bastion.
Tehran has always denied involvement in the violence gripping Iraq.