ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Kurdish authorities have arrested five men they say carried out a car bombing on behalf of Islamic State that killed two people outside the U.S. consulate in their autonomous region of northern Iraq.
Four of the men are Kurds from Erbil, the region’s Security Council said in a statement on Tuesday, highlighting the threat posed by homegrown militants in the relatively safe region. The fifth was an Arab from elsewhere in Iraq.
“The arrests were made based on information from the public and, in some cases, family members,” read the statement. “Each member of the group has confessed about their role in the attack”.
According to a video of the confessions seen by Reuters, the ringleader was a 25-year old engineering graduate named Darya Homdamin, whom the other three Kurds identified as introducing them to jihadist thought after they met through a local mosque.
The men all appeared at ease describing the details of how they carried out the attack, and showed no signs of abuse.
Darya said he had made contact via Facebook with a Kurdish militant called Mala Shwan, a cleric from Erbil who joined Islamic State and has appeared in a number of the group’s propaganda videos. Mala Shwan encouraged his new protege to mount attacks inside Erbil, and put him in touch with an Arab living in Kirkuk who would eventually hand over the car bomb and show them how to detonate it.
On April 17, the group collected the vehicle in Kirkuk and drove it to Erbil along a route that allowed them to avoid passing through any checkpoints, the men said in their confessions. They had intended to park the car outside the U.S. consulate, but realized it was too heavily guarded so left it in front of a cafe on the opposite side of the street in Erbil’s Christian quarter, which is popular with expatriates.
The men, according to the authorities, then gathered at a nearby sports center and detonated the bomb by remote control, killing two men, both Kurds from Turkey.
Most Kurds are Sunni Muslim like the militants, but identify more strongly with their ethnicity, and have emerged as a key partner for the U.S.-led coalition in its campaign to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State.
But hundreds of Kurds have joined the other side and are fighting their own ethnic kin.
In his confession, the Arab called Ahmed Jassem, who is originally from Baquba, said the Kurds had selected the U.S. Consulate as a target “because Erbil has become the source of the decision to fight against the Islamic State”.
Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Mark Trevelyan