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300 Foreign Fighters in Custody in Iraq, U.S. Says

November 23, 2003|From Reuters

BAGHDAD — Coalition forces in Iraq have at least 307 suspected foreign fighters in detention, mainly Syrians and Iranians, a U.S. military official said Saturday.

"Two days ago the number was 307," the official said, listing 140 Syrians, 70 Iranians and small numbers from Yemen, Chad, Saudi Arabia and the West Bank.

He was referring to non-Iraqis detained since Washington declared an end to major combat on May 1.

The men are suspected of having entered Iraq to carry out suicide bombings and other attacks against the U.S.-led occupying forces and Iraqi authorities cooperating with them.

The number of foreign nationals entering Iraq to fight coalition forces was "just a trickle," the official said, adding, "That's a serious problem, even if it's just one."

He said about 11,000 people were in custody in Iraq.

Attacks that Washington blames on remnants of the former Baathist government of Saddam Hussein and Islamists allied with the Al Qaeda terrorist network have killed 182 U.S. soldiers since May 1. At least 424 have been reported killed since the war in Iraq began March 20.

The U.S. official discounted any link between guerrilla operations and suicide bombings. "We didn't see links between them. What we do see is some evidence of regional coordination" in guerrilla attacks, he said.

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