Iraqi authorities announced on Monday they had in custody an al-Qaeda lieutenant who confessed to masterminding most of the car bombings in Baghdad, including the bloody 2003 assault on the UN headquarters in the capital.
The al-Qaeda bombmaker in custody "confessed to building approximately 75 percent of the car bombs used in attacks in Baghdad" since the Iraq war began, according to the interim Iraqi prime minister's spokesman, Thaer al-Naqib.
Sami Mohammed Ali Said al-Jaaf, also known as Abu Omar al-Kurdi, was captured on Jan. 15, a government statement said Monday.
It said al-Jaaf was responsible for 32 car bombings, including the bombing of the UN headquarters that killed the top UN envoy in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 other people.
The suspect, a top lieutenant of al-Qaeda's Iraq leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, also built the car bomb used to attack a shrine in the Shiite holy city of Najaf that killed more than 85 people, including Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, in August 2003, the statement said.
He also assembled the car bomb used in May to assassinate Izzadine Saleem, then president of the Iraqi Governing Council, the statement said.
Two other militants linked to al-Zarqawi's terror group also have been arrested. They included the chief of al-Zarqawi's propaganda operations and one of the group's weapons suppliers, the government statement said.
The government offered no evidence to support its claims, and the announcement followed a series of car bombings, kidnappings and assassinations of Iraqi security personnel, all of which have lowered public morale as the nation prepares for elections next weekend.
In the latest attack, a suicide bomber blew up a carload of explosives Monday outside the headquarters of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's party, wounding at least 10 people. The blast was claimed by al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The violence raised fresh fears about the safety of voters in Sunday's national elections, which Sunni Muslim insurgents have threatened to sabotage.
Meanwhile, gunmen assassinated a senior Iraqi judge and killed his bodyguard yesterday in a series of shootings of government employees and policemen that highlight grave security risks ahead in the run-up to this weekend's elections.
Clashes erupted yesterday morning in Baghdad's eastern Rashad neighborhood as Iraqi police fired on insurgents who were handing out leaflets warning people not to vote in Sunday's national elections. Armed men attacked a police station in the neighborhood and US troops intervened.
There was no word on casualties, but hospital officials said they were receiving many wounded from the area.
The slain judge was identified as Qais Hashim Shameri, secretary-general of the judges council in the Justice Ministry. Assailants sprayed his car with bullets in an attack that also wounded the judge's driver.
Assailants also shot dead a man who worked for a district council in western Baghdad as he was on his way to work, police said.
In a third ambush, gunmen firing from a speeding car wounded three staffers from the Communications Ministry as they were going to work, police Lieutenant Iyman Abdul-Hamid said. The three workers, one of them a woman with serious injuries, were rushed to a hospital.
Attackers also shot dead the son of an Iraqi translator working with US troops, police said.