Iraqi security forces detained dozens of alleged Al-Qaeda members accused of being behind a series of attacks including the massacre of 70 people at a wedding party in 2006, a spokesman said Saturday.
Among the 25 arrested was one suspected insurgent leader who security forces claim posed as a human rights activist who fought to improve prison conditions in a bid to elude capture.
“Our forces have arrested 25 of the 34 members of the cell, which is responsible for 15 different attacks,” said Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim Atta.
The worst attack the group allegedly carried out was the systematic killing of a wedding party celebrating the marriage of a Shiite man and a Sunni woman in the town of Taji, north of Baghdad, before disposing of their bodies in the Tigris river.
Atta said several forged documents, as well as video footage of the 2006 wedding party attack, were found in the raids that led to the arrests.
The murders came as confessional violence was raging throughout Iraq, with tens of thousands having died in 2006 and 2007 as a result of the brutal sectarian war.
According to the spokesman, the insurgents first detonated a bomb across the road the party was travelling along, so as to force them to travel along a side street.
The wedding convoy, made up of around a dozen vehicles, was then intercepted by 20 members of the cell who had set up a fake military checkpoint.
“They separated the women, the men, and the children and raped all the women,” Atta said.
“Then they hung massive weights around the necks of the 15 children, who were aged between two and 12 years old, and threw them in the river to drown.”
The new bride was then raped in front of her husband, and all the men in the wedding party were made to stand along a bridge crossing the river, with each receiving a single gunshot to the back of their head and their bodies being flung into the water with the force of the bullet.
“They then cut the bride’s chest, and left her to bleed to death,” Atta added.
He said that one of the group’s leaders, Firas Fleih, claimed to have set up a human rights organisation that advocated improved prison conditions, and added that Fleih took part in several protests in Baghdad in recent months.