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Iraq foils plot to bomb French embassy in Baghdad

A black hawk helicopter flies over the French Embassy in Baghdad February 25, 2010. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi security forces foiled a plot to bomb the French embassy in Baghdad after arresting 12 suspected al Qaeda members in connection with an attack on a Christian church, security officials said on Tuesday.

The al Qaeda cell responsible for the October 31 church assault, which ended with 52 hostages and police killed, intended to prepare a car bomb for an attack on the embassy, which is located in Baghdad’s Karrada district, officials said.

In April, suicide bombers launched coordinated car bomb attacks on the Iranian, Egyptian and German embassies in the capital, killing up to 40 people and wounding more than 200.

Iraqi security forces said on Saturday they had arrested al Qaeda’s Baghdad leader and 11 other members of the Islamist militant group for involvement in the attack on the Our Lady of Salvation cathedral. Militants took more than 100 Christian hostages during Sunday mass.

“The reason for targeting the embassy was because the French embassy is very active ... and there is investment activity among French companies in the whole country,” a senior Iraqi security official said.

France has been on high alert due to tensions over the presence of its forces in Afghanistan and the country’s ban on full-length Islamic veils.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a group of mostly Algerian-born militants, has carried out small-scale attacks including the recent abduction of seven foreigners, five of them French, in Niger.

When they announced the arrest of the suspects in the church attack, Iraqi authorities said they had seized 6 1/2 tonnes of explosives intended for use against a government ministry, hotels and the Christian community.

Reporting by Suadad al-Salhy, writing by Jim Loney; Editing by Samia Nakhoul