Early this month, the Multi-National Force Iraq (MNF-Iraq) announced the capture of Mohammed Hila Hammad Obeidi, otherwise known as Abu Ayman. According to a press release, Abu Ayman, a senior aide to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was captured by U.S.-led Iraqi forces on March 7 (MNF-Iraq Press Release, April 6). Abu Ayman was formerly the chief of staff of intelligence under the regime of Saddam Hussein and was most recently the leader of the Secret Islamic Army, a secret militia operating in the Babil province. He was captured in a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid in the al-Mahmudiyah neighborhood in southern Baghdad. Abu Ayman was the prime suspect in the abduction of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena in February 2005 and is also thought to have been behind some of the insurgency’s most gruesome kidnappings and beheadings of foreigners (al-Jazeera, April 6).
Abu Ayman is the “prime suspect” in many of the deadliest roadside bombing attacks against coalition soldiers, the new Iraqi security services and Iraqi citizens. He is also thought to be behind several assassination attempts of senior Iraqi government and security officials. The Secret Islamic Army, consisting of former Republican Guard and Iraqi intelligence officers as well as Syrian fighters, has focused its attacks in Baghdad, Salman Pak and Mahmudiyah (al-Jazeera, April 6).
Iraq’s Central Investigating Court in Baghdad issued a warrant for Abu Ayman’s arrest on October 17, 2005, citing his violation of Penal Code 194 for committing terrorist acts. According to the arrest warrant, Abu Ayman has been leading and financing insurgency operations since the fall of 2003 (MNF-Iraq Press Release, November 15, 2005). Coalition officials believe that he received training and assistance from Syria. Intelligence reports indicate that his group was in possession of SA-7 Grail surface-to-air missiles and had received training on how to use them from Syrian intelligence (al-Jazeera, April 6).
Information leading to his capture came from the interrogation of one of Abu Ayman’s senior lieutenants, Ramsi Ahmed Ismael Muhammed, otherwise known as Abu Qatada, a Syrian national, who was arrested in December 2005. According to a press release issued by the MNF-Iraq on March 9, Abu Qatada was apprehended in a raid on his home where he was found hiding in a nearby canal. Abu Qatada led a terrorist cell known as the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Iraq, which was linked to Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks on police forces and coalition officials, as well as the assassination of two government officials and the murders of several truck drivers in order to use their vehicles in IED attacks against coalition and Iraqi forces (MNF-Iraq Press Release, March 9).
The announcement of Abu Ayman’s capture was delayed due to DNA testing in order to confirm his identity and interrogate Abu Ayman for further information on insurgency activities and other terrorists with which he has worked in the past. Iraqi and coalition officials are confident that his arrest has fully disrupted the operations of the Secret Islamic Army and affiliated terrorist cells (MNF-Iraq Press Release, April 6).