Iraqi security officials accused al-Qaeda of launching the bloody attacks on jewellery shops in Baghdad Tuesday (May 25th), saying the "cash-strapped" organisation is resorting to robberies to finance its operations.
Nine gunmen attacked jewellery shops in al-Baiyaa area, south of Baghdad, robbing the stores completely, killing nine shop owners and wounding five others.
Baghdad Operations Command spokesperson Gen. Qassim Atta said the gunmen clashed with Iraqi security forces when the latter arrived on scene. A street battle ensued, resulting in eight civilians killed and two policemen wounded.
One member of the gang was also killed in the fighting, while two others were arrested.
"These armed operations carry the fingerprints of al-Qaeda, which tries to execute such operations to guarantee cash for their terrorist operations," Atta said.
"Al-Qaeda has become like a cash-strapped man, and it is also very weak morally and militarily," he said.
"Security forces have drained their financial sources. Therefore, the armed robberies which al-Qaeda members have started to carry out are one of the main sources for financing their operations," he added.
Interior ministry officials said Iraq has succeeded in disrupting the flow of money to terrorist groups.
"We were able to dry up all the resources outside Iraq that the terrorists were dependent on to finance their criminal operations. We are still monitoring money entering Iraq to prevent the terrorists from getting any financial support," said Tariq al-Asal, assistant to the deputy minister of interior.
"All that turned the terrorists into a confused group that is trying to get money in any way they can. And that is why they started to attack businesses, like gold shops, to be able to finance terrorism," al-Asal said.
Capt. Ali Jaafar of al-Baiyaa police said that the gunmen arrived in minibuses while shop owners were opening their businesses and citizens preparing to start their daily shopping.
The gunmen threw a hand grenade at an electric generator, prompting citizens to leave their shops and extinguish the fire.
The gunmen then attacked jewellery shops, shooting anyone in their way and stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of money, gold, silver, and diamonds.
"We managed to kill one terrorist," Jaafar said. "We found a bag of gold, jewellery, and money that he stole with the rest of the gang members."
An investigation is now under way to identify the features of the terrorists and publish their pictures in local media outlets, Jaafar added.
Fadhil Ali Redha, chairman of the Association of Iraqi Traders, said that the attack on jewellery shops "is proof of the end of terrorists in Iraq."
"Targeting traders, shops, and craftsmen shows that they have become financially bankrupt and are trying to get money in any way possible," Redha said. "Although we are extremely sad for the loss of our colleagues and brothers in this terrorist attack, it is a good sign that they have been reduced to mere highwaymen and thieves who are easy to eliminate."
Head of Baghdadi jewellers syndicate Hussam Helmi said in a press statement that "day after day, the terrorists prove that they are against all forms of life, that they embody the meaning of death and destruction of the country, and that they do not hesitate to kill innocent people for money."
"We have lost a number of our friends in this treacherous attack," said Magdi Hazim, 51, a jeweler in al-Baiyaa area. "We have been like one family for more than 20 years, working together and helping young people who desire to get married."
"With the improvement of the security situation in Baghdad, we no longer see the black faces of terrorists in town. Therefore, they attacked the shops in this barbarous way because they cannot confront Iraqi forces. This type of attack shows they are bankrupt and have turned into hungry beasts looking for anything to eat and finance their criminal operations," said Bahaa Khalaf, a 32-year-old Baghdad resident.