World News

Iraq al Qaeda militant says Syria trained him

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq aired a confession from a suspected al Qaeda militant Sunday who accused Syrian intelligence agents of training foreign fighters like himself in a camp before sending them to fight in Iraq.

The videotaped accusations, aired by Baghdad security spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi in a news conference, could worsen a row between Iraq and Syria over accusations that Syria supports Islamist militants responsible for attacks in Iraq.

Iraq and Syria recalled their ambassadors last week after Baghdad demanded Damascus hand over two alleged masterminds of bombings in Baghdad that killed almost 100 people, mainly at two government ministries.

The tape featured a man who called himself Mohammed Hassan al-Shemari, 29, from Saudi Arabia, who was arrested in Diyala province on suspicion of being a leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.

He was detained before last week’s bombings but the Iraqi government nonetheless used him to illustrate accusations against Syria. It was not possible to independently verify his story.

Shemari said when he arrived in Syria from Saudi Arabia, he was met by a militant who took him to an al Qaeda training camp in Syria. The head of the camp was a Syrian intelligence agent called Abu al-Qaqaa, he said.

“They taught us lessons in Islamic law and trained us to fight. The camp was well known to Syrian intelligence,” he said.

Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government has blamed supporters of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath party for massive truck bombs and other attacks last Wednesday, and says it has already captured some suspects.

Once inside Iraq he undertook more training in its vast desert province of Anbar, bordering Syria, alongside 30 other foreign fighters. He then met a purported al Qaeda in Iraq leader, Omar al-Baghdadi, who he said appointed him head of al Qaeda in the violent Diyala province.

He launched gun attacks on police checkpoints in Diyala, kidnapping Iraqi officers and extorting money for their release or killed them with knives and set up suicide bombings, he said.

Ties between Damascus and Baghdad have been strained since around the time Saddam came to power in 1979.

Since 2003, tensions have centered around charges from the U.S.-backed Iraqi government that Syria, estranged from Washington, has permitted Sunni insurgents to stream into Iraq.

Writing by Tim Cocks