Al-Qaida plot foiled, official says
The official said 421 recruits were to storm embassies in Baghdad.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Security officials foiled a plot that would have put hundreds of Al-Qaida men at guard posts around Baghdad's Green Zone, home to the U.S. and other foreign embassies as well as the Iraqi government, the interior minister told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
A senior Defense Ministry official confirmed the plot, and said the 421 Al-Qaida fighters involved were actually recruited to storm the U.S. and British embassies and take hostages. Several ranking Defense Ministry officials have been jailed in the plot, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, said the Al-Qaida recruits were one bureaucrat's signature away from acceptance into an Iraqi army battalion whose job it is to control the gates and main squares in the Green Zone. The plot was discovered three weeks ago.
"You can imagine what could happen to a minister or an ambassador while passing through these gates when those terrorists are there," Jabr said in the interview conducted at his office in the Green Zone -- a 2-square-mile hunk of prime real estate on the west bank of the Tigris River. The area is a maze of concrete blast walls, concertina wire and checkpoints.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said of the scheme: "I've heard about the report. I've not received anything definitive." He noted that initial reports often change.
"I don't know that I'd say we've learned anything at least at this stage that would suggest any important lesson," Rumsfeld said.
"We've always known that there are people who've tried to infiltrate the various security forces and get to close access to places they ought not to be. There's nothing new about that that I know of," he said.
Jabr confirmed that a number of Defense Ministry officials had been jailed after the plot was discovered. The Defense Ministry official said some of them had forged the signature of Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi.
The Defense Ministry official said the plot was uncovered by the military intelligence and the government's General Intelligence Service, which said the Al-Qaida recruits planned to take U.S. and British diplomats hostage, then demand withdrawal of U.S. and British troops.
The Defense Ministry was working to capture the recruits, both men said.
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