Inside a narrow alley in Tikrit, a large crowd of mourners came from surrounding villages to offer condolences at funeral services for three students who died at the hands of al-Qaeda gunmen at their secondary school.
Police Captain Kareem Fadhil's 16-year-old son Salam was killed along with two of his fellow students -- Luay and Ali -- Monday (April 23rd) during a chemistry class.
"My son was killed before the teacher and in front of his classmates," Fadhil said. "I will not stop fighting them [al-Qaeda] even if they killed all my children and family. We are now in the middle of the road where there is no turning back. It is either victory over al-Qaeda or death, valiantly and without humiliation."
Atheer Hassan al-Shammary, one of Salam's classmates, said, "Whoever is looking for a definition of al-Qaeda and the nature of its activity should look at the graves of Salam, Luay and Ali."
"[Salam] was only interested in his studies and sports. He had nothing else on his mind. We were preparing for the school final exams, and so was he. His fragrance can still be smelled inside the classroom, and his laughter and innocent pranks are still felt amongst us. No one wants to go back to class as everybody is in a state of shock which will not end until the criminals are captured and punished for their cowardly crime," al-Shammary said.
Last Monday, Iraqi police in Salah al-Din province announced that three students died and two others were injured inside a secondary school south of Tikrit when gunmen stormed the school during class and opened fire on the students.
Hasan al-Majmaie, the Salah al-Din police spokesperson, said three masked gunmen were responsible for the attacks. He said the police arrested one gunman, who is being interrogated, while the other two escaped.
There are terrorist motives for the attack because the boys' fathers worked for the police, al-Majmaie said.
A picture shows the first victim, Salam, wearing the t-shirt of his favourite soccer team, Barcelona, with the inscription "martyr of knowledge and scholarship" written underneath it. His mother -- who refused to talk or receive any mourners from the neighbourhood because of her condition -- called on her husband to capture the killers and bring them to justice, which she considered the best consolation for Salam's death.
"The terrorist groups, after having given up on targeting security personnel as they did in previous years, started to launch cowardly terrorist attacks against their next of kin," al-Majmaie said.
"At first al-Qaeda demands collaboration with it, and if a security man refuses, it will threaten to kill members of his family, which is what happened with our colleague Kareem and the other two officers, Najad Ali and Ibrahim Khalid, whose sons were killed in the cowardly attack," he said.
"When we captured one of the attackers, the reality of the terrorists' state of loss and weakness was made clear," al-Majmaie said. "We also identified the names of the other two, for whom search operations are underway to capture [and it] is only a matter of time before that will happen."
Lt. Col. Najad Ali's 16-year-old son Luay was killed in the attack.
"I was working in Baghdad when my brother informed me about what happened. I do not know what happened to me, but I awoke with my colleagues pouring water on my face because I had passed out," said Ali, a staff member in the counter-terrorism unit in Baghdad.
"Luay was the light of my eyes and my life and I used to see myself in him. I will never forgive that beast who fired the shot at his head and killed an innocent soul. If he only knew my son's good-hearted nature and his good demeanour, he would not have dared to inflict any harm on him, but we have become used to their savagery and lowliness. Al-Qaeda and all the terrorists must know that I am more determined to pursue, capture and kill them," he said.
Sheikh Fathi Abdullah, an imam at a mosque in Tikrit, told Mawtani the gunmen "have no faith".
"[These gunmen] are violating the faith and Islam. It is not admissible to kill the son or wife of a person even if he was a criminal. That is what our faith states but they have no faith," he said. "Al-Qaeda members' wives and sons are living amongst us, and no one would commit any offense against them. They should have known the extent of their terror by the crime they committed. We as religious scholars consider this crime a filthy, lowly one, for which the government and the security forces must eliminate those responsible as soon as possible."
Rasheed al-Douri, a leader in Tikrit's Sahwa forces, told Mawtani, "The terrorists' masks and their resounding slogans have fallen off and revealed their true faces. Killing teenagers inside a school to take revenge on their fathers indicates three things: the first is that they have no morals, or mercy, and do not deserve to live; the second is they are in a state of loss and in their weakest state; the third is they are incapable of targeting security personnel and confronting them face to face."