Iraqi forces arrested the leader of the al-Qaeda affiliated "Birds of Paradise" group during a security operation in Salah al-Din province, officials announced on Tuesday (April 20th).
The arrest came just hours after officials announced that two top leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq were killed.
The arrested terrorist, Bassim Abu Khalil al-Mujahid, is "a senior leader of al-Qaeda and is directly responsible for the recruitment of child suicide bombers as part of the Birds of Paradise group in the northern Iraqi provinces of Salah al-Din, Diyala, Kirkuk, and Ninawa," said Lt. Col. Abdullah Ali of Salah al-Din police.
Al-Mujahid was arrested in Balad district, north of Baghdad, based on tips that security agencies received from intelligence sources.
"This operation is a deadly blow to al-Qaeda, especially in al-Jazeera, an area adjacent to the province of Anbar and which was considered one of the strongholds of al-Qaeda in the past," Ali said.
"The Birds of Paradise group was directly responsible for recruiting children under 15, brainwashing them, and convincing them to carry out suicide operations -- or even deceiving them by placing explosives around their bodies, sending them to markets, and then blowing them up using a remote control," he added.
Ali is confident the arrest of al-Mujahid will lead to dismantling the terrorist organisation and discovering their connections "within one month at most."
The Iraqi Ministry of Defence also announced on Tuesday that the military leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq in the northern provinces was killed in a joint operation involving Iraqi and US forces.
Ahmed al-Ubaidi, known as Abu Suhaib, died in a security operation carried out in Mosul Tuesday at dawn, said Ministry of Defense official spokesperson Gen. Mohammed al-Askari.
"Al-Ubaidi was serving as an aide to al-Qaeda's most senior leader, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, whose death Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced Monday," al-Askari said in a press statement. "He is considered one of the top leaders of al-Qaeda. With his killing, a chapter of terrorism in the northern region will come to a close."
He added that Iraqi forces were acting on tips received earlier indicating that al-Ubaidi was at a house in the Somar neighborhood of Mosul. After security forces arrived at the house, a gunfight ensued and al-Ubaidi was killed. One Iraqi soldier was wounded in the fight.
Meanwhile, in Diyala, the police command said they thwarted a suicide attack targeting the local administration building in central Baqubah and arrested the terrorist who planned the attack.
Maj. Ghaleb al-Karkhi, spokesperson for Diyala Police Command, said "highly accurate tips" led to the arrest.
"The information that the arrested individual had is very important and will give a lot answers about al-Qaeda and its relations to neighbouring countries," al-Karkhi added.
Officials said this week's achievements are proof of the improvement of Iraq's security forces.
"The development of intelligence units in the Iraqi Army and police has been an important factor in the series of recent achievements by Iraqi forces," said Capt. Khaldoun al-Jurani of the anti-terrorism unit in Baghdad.
He said security forces in Baghdad alone carried out scores of successful operations in April, leading to the arrest of more than 33 terrorists, the seizure of nine weapons stockpiles, and the prevention of three suicide attacks.
"The development of intelligence agencies has enabled them to deal pre-emptive blows before terrorist attacks can be carried out and to arrest or kill the leaders of terrorist groups and perpetrators of suicide operations," al-Jurani added.
The arrests reassured Iraqi citizens that the security forces can maintain stability.
"In the past, I had doubts over the ability of the Iraqi forces to handle responsibility for the security file after the departure of the US forces," said Ali al-Qaisi, a 42-year-old from Ramadi. "However, today we have become more confident in their abilities. I think that the major achievements that have been made over the past few days were also the result of citizens' cooperation with the security forces."
Ahmed Sabah, an engineer from Baghdad said, "The killing of al-Qaeda leaders is proof of the end of that organisation in Iraq. It is also proof that Iraqis have severed relations with the terrorists."
"The dreams of terrorists to build a state of backwardness in Iraq governed by extremists and terrorists have been shattered," said Omar Mohammed, a 30-year-old teacher from Fallujah. "Islam has nothing to do with those terrorists, it is the religion of love and tolerance."