Sanchez Sees al Qaeda Seeking Foothold in Iraq
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2004 Last week's capture of Hassan Ghul along the Iran- Iraq border proves al Qaeda terrorists actively are seeking a foothold in Iraq "to continue their murderous campaigns," the commander of Combined Joint Task Force 7 said in Baghdad today.
"For months I've been saying that al Qaeda's fingerprints have been here in Iraq," Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told reporters during a briefing. "Those (fingerprints) are showing themselves in the techniques that were being employed by foreign fighters, and this included the tactics being employed by suicide bombers against innocent Iraqis and against coalition forces."
In al Qaeda's chain of command, Ghul reported directly to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.
The general said the terrorist group's tactics and techniques have been apparent in Iraq at least since the November bombing in Nassiriya that killed 18 Italians, and possibly before that. "The extent of the infrastructure and the extent of the operations here is still evolving," he said.
Sanchez said the use of suicide bombers in Iraq presents a change in tactics by the insurgents, who now are attacking their own countrymen. The general cited last week's attacks at the so-called "Assassin's Gate" near Mosul, where more than 20 Iraqi citizens have been killed and some 60 wounded. "It's important to note," he said, "that these Iraqis were attacked because they supported a free and a democratic country. They were killed by those who want to see this country turn back towards terrorism, dictatorship, and those who have a fear of moving forward towards democracy in this part of the world."
Although Sanchez said the coalition has yet to establish the nationalities of any of the suicide bombers behind those successful attacks, coalition authorities believe many to be outsiders. "We do know that those that we have prevented for the most part have been foreigners," he said. "And we had a Yemeni that was specifically caught in the first day of Ramadan."
Though terrorists still manage to kill and injure coalition soldiers and Iraqi civilians, Sanchez said the coalition, which includes an ever-increasing number of Iraqi security forces, continues to make "great progress" in creating a stable and secure Iraq.
"We have had tremendous success in both preventing and defeating some of the terrorist attacks against the coalition forces," he said. "And working together, we can achieve even greater success in the coming months."