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Raid on Baghdad mosque uncovers workshop to make car bombs

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A mosque raided by security forces in southern Baghdad contained a workshop to rig suicide car bombs, with seven vehicles ready for terror attacks, an Iraqi Defense Ministry official said Sunday.

Car bombings and remote-controlled roadside blasts have become routine in the Iraqi capital in recent weeks, including a blast Sunday that wounded two U.S. soldiers.

National Guard forces raided the Sunni Muslim Al-Yassen Mosque in the southern Baghdad area of Abu Dshir on Saturday, said Gen. Saleh Sarhan of the Defense Ministry. In addition to seven cars pre-rigged with explosives, the guardsmen found 30 rocket-propelled grenades, high-powered rifles, mortars and remote control detonators, Sarhan said.

"The National Guard arrested the imam (religious leader) of the mosque," Sarhan said, and detained an additional 18 people suspected of involvement in the car bombings.

Anti-U.S. insurgents used some 60 mosques in the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, to stockpile weapons and provide cover during a U.S.-led offensive against the city earlier this month, the U.S. military says. One of the mosques was described as a general arms depot capable of equipping insurgents across much of Iraq.

Both Sunni and Shiite Muslim clerics are deeply opposed to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, and many Sunni clerics also reject elections scheduled for Jan. 30.

In Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, a car bomb killed six people.

Another car bomb exploded on a perilous road leading to Baghdad's airport, wounding two U.S. soldiers and damaging a military vehicle, a military statement said. There were no civilian casualties.

A blast on the same stretch of road Saturday damaged two armored military buses but caused no casualties.

Elsewhere, insurgents lobbed mortars near a police station in Baqouba, a city 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said. Two officers and a woman were injured.

Iraqi and U.S. forces around the northern city of Mosul arrested 43 suspected rebels, a U.S. military spokesman said. As U.S.-led forces attacked Fallujah earlier this month, insurgents in Mosul rose up in a bloody campaign against civilians. Security forces found 17 bodies around the city on Friday, and 15 on Thursday, Army Lt. Col. Paul Hastings said.

Among those arrested in recent days are a number of Islamic jihadists, or fighters, from outside of Iraq. Sarhan said police over the weekend captured a Saudi citizen, Faisal Ganem, carrying two grenades and a map of Fallujah.

Last week, Basra police arrested two Saudis, two Tunisians, a Sudanese and a Libyan who allegedly arrived in the city from Fallujah to carry out a bombing campaign.


(Omar Jassim is a special correspondent. Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Tim Johnson contributed to this report.)


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.