Iraqi forces captured a key al-Qaida suspect wanted in the bombing of a Shiite shrine, but the mastermind of the attack that brought the country to the brink of civil war was still at large, a top security official said Wednesday.
Yousri Fakher Mohammed Ali, a Tunisian also known as Abu Qudama, was captured after being seriously wounded in a clash with security forces north of Baghdad a few days ago in which 15 other foreign fighters were killed, National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie said.
He also identified the fugitive ringleader in the operation as an Iraqi named Haitham Sabah Shaker Mohammed al-Badri, the head of a gang that included two other Iraqis, four Saudis and Abu Qudama. He said the gang planted bombs in the 1,200-year-old Askariya mosque that exploded on Feb. 22 and obliterated its glistening golden dome, an addition completed in 1905.
A spasm of sectarian killing and revenge attacks on Sunni and Shiite mosques after the bombing of the revered shrine in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, took the country to the brink of civil war.
The mosque attack was staged "in order to ignite sectarian strife among the Iraqi people," al-Rubaie said.