Residents storm mosque after children killed
BAGHDAD — An armed crowd of more than 80 residents of the eastern Baghdad district of Adhamiyah stormed a prominent Sunni mosque in search of those responsible for the deaths of two area children, representatives of the U.S. Army said Monday.
A search of the Abu Hanifa mosque compound by Iraqi security forces after the confrontation yielded more than three dozen detainees and several large weapons caches, according to an Army news release. The mosque has long been suspected of being at the center of the pocket of extremist Sunni resistance housed in Adhamiyah.
“It’s a tense area there and violence happens all the time,” said Capt. Jared Purcell of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, which is based near Adhamiyah.
The incident occurred Sunday afternoon after the crowd of angry residents rallied around a local sheik who is the uncle of the two children that were killed, according to U.S. Army spokesmen. No details about the deaths were released.
According to Army officials, the crowd “ousted suspected terrorists” from the mosque, though no gunfire was exchanged. Members of the Iraqi army arrived at the mosque and took 13 detainees into custody, according to the U.S. military.
Iraqi security forces then returned twice more later in the evening and early morning the next day to conduct searches of the mosque grounds.
They discovered weapons caches that included explosive devices, dynamite, mortars, rockets and land mines, according to the U.S. military. During the later searches, 28 additional detainees were taken into custody.
The search of mosques has long been a sensitive issue for coalition forces. Although U.S. military intelligence has indicated that foreign fighters have been housed in the Abu Hanifa mosque and in the surrounding areas, no American soldier has ever set foot inside the mosque as part of a search, according to Purcell.
Coalition forces are required to petition Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for permission to search certain prominent mosques, including Abu Hanifa, Purcell said. That permission is rarely granted, he added.
Ethnic cleansing campaigns pushed many Sunnis to resettle in Adhamiyah, making it one of the few Sunni strongholds in the eastern districts of the capital, which is largely controlled by Shiite militias.
Coalition forces built a wall around Adhamiyah in an attempt to stem violent clashes with neighboring districts.