Iraq on Tuesday said al-Qaida nearly got away with passing 421 terrorists off as guards at checkpoints around the protected area.
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Security officials foiled an al-Qaida plot that would have put hundreds of its men at critical guard posts around Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. and other foreign embassies as well as the Iraqi government, the interior minister told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
A senior Defense Ministry official said the 421 al-Qaida fighters were recruited to storm the U.S. and British embassies and take hostages.
Several ranking Defense Ministry officials have been jailed in the plot, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, said the al-Qaida recruits were one bureaucrat’s signature away from acceptance into an Iraqi army battalion whose job is to control the gates and main squares in the Green Zone. The plot was discovered three weeks ago.
“You can imagine what could happen to a minister or an ambassador while passing through these gates when those terrorists are there,” Jabr said in the interview conducted at his office inside the Green Zone — a 2-square-mile area of prime Baghdad real estate on the west bank of the Tigris River. The area is a maze of concrete blast walls, concertina wire and checkpoints.
U.S. aware of incident
In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday that he was aware of the incident.
“I’ve heard about the report. I’ve not received anything definitive,” he said, noting that initial reports often change.
“I don’t know that I’d say we’ve learned anything at least at this stage that would suggest any important lesson.
“We’ve always known that there are people who’ve tried to infiltrate the various security forces and get to close access to places they ought not to be. There’s nothing new about that that I know of,” Rumsfeld said.