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Iraq captures mastermind of 2016 Islamic State terror attack that killed hundreds

Iraq arrested the man behind the infamous 2016 bomb attack in a Baghdad shopping center that left nearly 350 people dead and 250 injured.
A handout picture provided by Iraq's army spokesman Yahya Rasool's official Twitter account on Oct. 18, 2021 reportedly shows blindfolded Ghazwan Alzawbaee, the suspect behind a 2016 attack claimed by the Islamic State group that killed more than 320 in Baghdad, flanked by two armed men at un undisclosed location.

BAGHDAD — Al-Qaeda militant Ghazwan al-Zawbaee, who carried out attacks throughout Iraq on behalf of the Islamic State (IS), was captured by Iraqi security forces.

In a tweet, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi confirmed Ghazwan’s capture: "Five years after the terrorist bombing of Karrada, our brave forces succeeded in capturing the terrorist Ghazwan [al-]Zawbaee in a complex intelligence operation outside the country. He is the primary culprit behind the Karrada atrocity and many others.”

The young IS militant, alongside suicide bomber Abu Maha al-Iraqi, coordinated a suicide truck packed with explosives to target late-night shoppers in the Karrada district during Ramadan in 2016. The bombing was one of the deadliest attacks in the world since 9/11 and left at least 346 dead.

IS later took credit for the bombing while it controlled large swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory. At the time, IS was losing battles to Iraqi security forces who were liberating Fallujah. Many viewed the Karrada bombing by the jihadist group as retribution and an attempt to divert attention from Iraq’s victory in Fallujah.

In an interview with an Iraqi security official who spoke with Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity, he revealed many details about Zawbaee, including that the operation to capture him took months and involved chasing him in foreign countries that the source did not name. 

Born in Baghdad, Zawbaee began a career of terrorizing his people back in May 2007. He was only 15 years old when he first pledged his allegiance to IS and took up arms against American troops as part of the Iraqi insurgency against the 2003 US invasion. Later that year, he was arrested and detained in Cropper Prison located near Baghdad International Airport. He was released in 2008.

Iraqi army spokesperson Yehia Rasool described him as “one of the most wanted persons by the Iraqi judiciary." He added, "This terrorist carried out many criminal operations against the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces.”

The notorious terrorist, nicknamed Abu Obaida, returned to the terrorist organization in early 2010 and plotted attacks on security forces through assassinations, sticky bombs, targeting and theft of goldsmiths, until he was arrested again in mid-2011 in the Dora district by the Directorate of Combatting Crime. 

He was detained in Abu Ghraib Prison until mid-2013, when he escaped toward the Anbar desert and joined other fugitive terrorists; there, he received military training and religious studies. Then he and a group of trained militants were transferred to the Hamrin Mountains to resume their terrorist activities in Kirkuk and Ninevah provinces.

Prior to the fall of Mosul, Zawbaee and his group received orders by IS to enter the city with light weapons to engage in espionage against security forces and provide information on the forces’ daily operations. This ultimately resulted in the fall of Mosul, where more than 20,000 Iraqi forces failed to defend the city against an approximately thousand-strong IS army.

He later joined IS's Army of al-Usra, which, according to late Iraqi analyst Hisham al-Hashimi, is responsible for ethnic cleansing and the major destruction of Iraq’s religious and heritage sites. He had direct contacts with the emir of Baghdad's Wilayat and was the logistics mind in the organization, where he prepared and transported booby-trapped vehicles, terrorist elements, explosive belts and explosive materials throughout the so-called caliphate.

Through his confessions, the captured jihadi admitted to the twin bombings of Baghdad’s Al-Nakheel Mall in 2016 during Eid al-Adha, in which more than 10 people were killed and dozens wounded. He has also admitted responsibility for the al-Karkh assassinations, the Oraiba market bombings and a dozen more suicide car bomb attacks.

This is the second arrest of a high-level IS figure since the October elections. Last week, Iraqi intelligence forces announced their capture of IS's second in command, finance chief Sami Jassim Mohammed al-Jabouri — a blow to the financial activities of the organization.

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