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Iraq police find 7 bodies and suspected al Qaeda jail

SAMARRA, Iraq (Reuters) - Police raiding a suspected al Qaeda hide-out found a secret prison and the bodies of seven Iraqis bearing gunshot wounds and torture marks, Iraqi police said on Saturday.

Police said they believed the six men and one woman, only two of whom have so far been identified, had been kidnapped. There was no immediate comment from the U.S. military.

Police arrested 11 suspected al Qaeda members in the raid on a house in Benat al-Hassan, on the outskirts of Samarra, early on Saturday, said Captain Muthana Shakir, commander of Iraq’s Rapid Intervention Force in Samarra, 100 km (62 miles) north of Baghdad.

They found a room sealed by a door with bars in it, marked “Sijin” -- Arabic for prison -- and the tortured body of the woman, who had been shot, lay inside.

“We found munitions, weapons, and inside the prison, the woman’s body; in another room, the bodies of six men,” Shakir said, adding that all showed signs of torture and bullet wounds.

Shakir said it was in keeping with the Sunni Arab group’s Islamist philosophy to separate women and men. One of the dead men was a lawyer, he added.

No prisoners were found alive at the house.

There were no clashes during the raid. Police found all suspects sleeping when they stormed the building.

Al Qaeda’s brutal tactics, including kidnappings and the routine torture and killings of hostages, have cost the Islamist group much of its popular support and were instrumental in persuading Sunni Arab tribal leaders to revolt against the militants with U.S. backing last year.

The U.S. military said on Saturday that U.S. and Iraqi forces had killed three militants, including an al Qaeda cell leader, and captured a dozen suspected militants in various operations in northern Iraq, where security forces are cracking down on what they say are the group’s last strongholds.

Crackdowns by Iraqi and U.S. forces, with the cooperation of tribal leaders, have weakened al Qaeda, but officials say they are still capable of carrying out large-scale attacks.

Two bombings in the western town of Garma and the northern city of Mosul blamed on al Qaeda-linked groups killed around 40 people on Thursday.

Writing by Tim Cocks, editing by Mary Gabriel