Iraq's National Security adviser on Wednesday said authorities had arrested a key al-Qaida in Iraq suspect — a Tunisian — wanted in the bombing of the Shiite Golden Dome shrine last February in Samarra.
Mouwafak al-Rubaie said the ringleader in the operation, an Iraqi he identified as Haitham Sabah Shaker Mohammed al-Badri, was still on the run.
The bombing in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, set in motion a spasm of sectarian killing and revenge attacks on Sunni and Shiite mosques -- an outbreak of violence that took the country to the brink of civil war.
Al-Rubaie identified the arrested man as Yousri Fakher Mohammed Ali, a Tunisian also known as Abu Qudama. The national security chief said Abu Qudama was seriously wounded in a clash with security forces north of Baghdad few days ago. Fifteen other foreign fighters were killed in the confrontation, he said.
Al-Rubaie said Abu Qudama and al-Badri were in a gang that included two other Iraqis and four Saudis who carried out the attack.
The national security adviser said the gang planted bombs in the 1,200-year-old Askariyah mosque that obliterated its glistening golden dome, an addition completed in 1905. While acknowledging al-Badri was still at large, al-Rubaie did not say if the other members of the group had been captured.
He said Abu Qudama, the captured Tunisian, was involved in the killing the of Al-Arabiya TV correspondent Atwar Bahjat, who was shot dead along with two of her colleagues hours after the shrine bombing.
Abu Qudama entered Iraq in November 2003 and was captured "few days ago" in Udaim, a village about 70 miles north of Baghdad, al-Rubaie said.
"Abu Qudama confessed that he killed hundreds of Iraqis" in different parts of the country al-Rubaie said, but gave no further details.
"Iraqi forces and its intelligence have achieved major penetrations of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups," the national security adviser said.