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The attacks — which according to some sources killed more than 200 people — came as thousands of Shiite pilgrims celebrated Ashura, the most significant religious festival in Shiite Islam.
“The level of organization and the desire to cause casualties among innocent worshippers is a clear hallmark of the Zarqawi network, and we have intelligence that ties Zarqawi to this attack,” Abizaid told the House Armed Services Committee.
Abizaid did not elaborate on the details of his evidence, but did suggest the possibility that Zarqawi had connections to Saddam Hussein’s government.
“We also have intelligence that shows that there is some linkage between Zarqawi and former regime elements — specifically the Iraqi intelligence service. And we are concerned to see a terrorist group come into close coordination with former Iraqi intelligence people because that creates an opportunity for the enemy for cooperation that can have a lot of danger for the (coalition military) force,” Abizaid said.
U.S. officials also say Zarqawi was behind the August bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad and believe he has ties with the militant group Ansar al-Islam. Last month, authorities reportedly intercepted a letter from Zarqawi urging suicide attacks on Shiite Muslims as a way of fomenting civil war in Iraq.
U.S. forces also believe Zarqawi is affiliated with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network, and have placed a $10 million bounty on his head.
Also known as Ahmad Fadheel Nazal al-Khalayleh, Zarqawi was first named as a suspected terrorist when the Jordanian government sentenced him to death in absentia for planning an attack on a hotel during millennium celebrations.
U.S. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said 15 people are under arrest in connection with the Karbala explosions.
Thousands of Iraqis have attended funerals for the victims of Tuesday’s bloody attacks, and the country is observing three days of national mourning. Shiites flocked to their holiest Baghdad shrine to mourn those killed.
In Karbala, 70 miles south of Baghdad, mourners carried coffins covered with palm leaves and Iraqi flags, chanting, “God is greatest.”
The death toll from the attacks remains fluid. President Mohammed Bahr al-Ulloum, head of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council, places the total number of dead at 271, while the Health Minister places it at 169. U.S. officials revised their numbers downward to 117.
Tuesday’s series of coordinated attacks also wounded hundreds of others.
In the Shiite holy city of Karbala, five large blasts went off shortly after 10 a.m. local time, near two of Shiite Islam’s most important shrines.
About the same time, three explosions occurred at the al-Kadhimain shrine in Baghdad. According to the U.S. military, three suicide bombers caused the explosions.
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