Al-Qaeda Suspected of Sulaimaniyah Bombing

Analysts believe Muslim extremists active in city which has mostly escaped the violence that has blighted rest of country.

Al-Qaeda Suspected of Sulaimaniyah Bombing

Analysts believe Muslim extremists active in city which has mostly escaped the violence that has blighted rest of country.

Islamic militants may have bombed a top international hotel in the city because of its links to the ruling party in the region, say local security analysts.

They believed the extremists are linked to al-Qaeda and are active in Sulaimaniyah, despite the strong Kurdish security presence.

A suicide bomber blew himself up in his car on March 10 in front of the Sulaimaniyah Palace, the top international hotel in this quiet Kurdish city. The attack - the first bombing here since October 2005 - killed a security guard and injured 30 people.

Security sources refused to comment on the investigation, the bomber’s identity or possible motives for the attack, saying they would not release details to the press until they have solid information.

The suicide bomber was believed to be a young man in his twenties, according to the security forces. No one has taken responsibility for the attack.

“We didn’t know anything about the attack before it happened,” said Saifadeen Ali, head of security forces for areas controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK.

Sulaimaniyah deputy interior minister Ahmed Mussa said that the authorities have beefed up security and checkpoints as Iraqi Kurdistan prepares to celebrate Norooz, the new year, on Friday.

In a statement, the Kurdistan Regional Government described the outrage as a “cowardly attack on innocent people” and promised to redouble efforts to protect its citizens.

“We are committed to enabling the people of Kurdistan to go about their daily lives in peace,” said the KRG.

But Sulaimaniyah residents, who have enjoyed more peace and stability than any other region in Iraq, said they were shocked and frightened by the attack.

“This explosion reminded us that we are not safe,” said Payam Bahadeen, a 21-year-old student at Sulaimaniyah university. “When I leave home to go to university, I have thoughts that I may die that day.”

Sulaimaniyah Palace, located in the heart of the city, is frequented by international business travellers and high-powered Kurdish officials. It is owned by the PUK.

The attack shattered the hotel’s windows and damaged the concrete barrier in front of the building. The hotel is now closed for repairs, according to one hotel employee who asked to remain anonymous.

“This attack is an indication that there are gaps in the Asayish [security],” said Yousif Goran, deputy director for the Kurdistan Strategic Studies group, a Sulaimaniyah-based think tank.

Goran speculated that Sulaimaniyah Palace was attacked by Islamists because of its location and powerful patrons. Officials and businessmen connected to the PUK often use the hotel for business.

“No one has been named as the mastermind of the attack, but I believe that it will be either the Islamic State of Iraq or Ansar al-Sunna,” said Goran.

Both organisations are linked to al-Qaeda.

“I believe that the Islamic terrorist groups are in Sulaimaniyah and elsewhere in Kurdistan, but how strong and effective are they? I think that they are weak in Sulaimaniyah.”

The attack on the ten-story hotel has hurt local business. Zagros, a popular supermarket, clothes shop and cafe, which is connected to Sulaimaniyah Palace, has lost about 50 per cent of its business in the last week, said Sirwan Muhssin, director of Zagros.

As a result of the explosion, the store suffered losses of around 8,000 US dollars and is launching a 10,000 dollar advertising campaign to encourage customers to return, said Muhssin.

Hersh Moharram, head of the Kurdistan Investment Board, seems confident that the outrage will only put off potential investors temporarily, “Of course this attack will hurt investments, but it will only be for a short period of time.”

Nonethless, it appears the authorities will have their work cut out to reassure the public at large that the security breach was just a blip.

Deni Jamal, an 18-year-old preparatory school student, said the explosion has dented people’s confidence in the security services.

“I hope they will find those who are responsible for this attack so that life will return to the city and [we can] trust the security (forces) once again,” she said.

Rebaz Mahmood is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sulaimaniyah.

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