An instructor teaching his militant recruits how to make car bombs accidentally set off explosives in his demonstration on Monday, killing 21 of them in a huge blast that alerted authorities to the existence of the rural training camp in an orchard north of Baghdad.
Nearly two dozen people were arrested, including wounded insurgents trying to hobble away from the scene.
The fatal goof by the al-Qaeda breakaway group that dominates the Sunni insurgency in Iraq happened on the same day that the speaker of the Iraqi parliament, a prominent Sunni whom the militants consider a traitor, escaped unhurt from a roadside bomb attack on his motorcade in the northern city of Mosul.
Nevertheless, the events underscored the determination of the insurgents to rebuild and regain the strength they enjoyed in Iraq at the height of the war, until US-backed Sunni tribesmen turned against them.
The militants are currently battling for control of mainly Sunni areas of western Iraq in a key test of the Shiite-led government’s ability to maintain security more than two years after the withdrawal of US troops.
While the Iraqi army has been attacking insurgent training camps in the vast desert of western Anbar Province near the Syrian border, it is unusual to find such a camp in the center of the country, just 95km north of the capital.
The discovery shows that “the terrorist groups have made a strong comeback in Iraq and that the security problems are far from over, and things are heading from bad to worse,” said Hamid al-Mutlaq, a member of the parliament’s security and defense committee.
According to a police officer, an army official and a hospital official, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, the events unfolded as follows.
The militants were attending a lesson on making car bombs and explosive belts when a glitch set off one of the devices during the car bomb part of the demonstration. Security forces rushed to the area after hearing the thunderous blast and arrested 12 wounded militants, along with another 10 trying to flee.
Authorities searched two houses and a garage in the orchard, finding seven car bombs, as well as several explosive belts and roadside bombs. The cars did not have license plates. Bomb experts then started the work of defusing the devices.
Later on Monday, a bomb exploded near a cafe in western Baghdad shortly after nightfall, killing three people and wounding 11 others, according to police and medical officials, who all spoke on condition of anonymity.