- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

Kurdish officials said Saturday that U.S. forces launched a missile attack on Ansar al-Islam, a group suspected of affiliation with al-Qaida in northern Iraq, near the province of Suleimaniya, the Kurdish administration center.

An official of the Kurdish Socialist Democratic Party in Europe, Hussein Rasoul, told United Press International that American forces launched about 70 missiles on Friday night against the group.

He said he expected more U.S. air strikes on the Islamic group's bases near the villages of Taweelah and Bayara near the Iraqi-Iranian border.

The attack against Ansar al-Islam sites coincided with the arrival of 18 American helicopters at Bakrcu Airport, 8 kilometers west of Suleimaniya, in a possible preparation to launch a ground attack by the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters belonging to the National Kurdish Union Party, — known as the PUK — and led by Jalal Talbani.

Meanwhile, Norwegian authorities on Friday arrested Mulla Karikar, the head of Ansar al-Islam, who earlier said his fighters would carry out suicide attacks against American forces if they entered Kurdish areas in northern Iraq.

A PUK spokesman in Washington, Qabad Talbani, said U.S. missile attacks focused on sites in the villages of Bayara and Taweelah, where PUK forces surrounded Ansar al-Islam bases.

He said his party's forces formed attack units in preparation to comb the area, adding that "our mission is to crush this group."

The PUK apparently informed U.S. intelligence services of the Islamic group's activities and allowed intelligence elements to interrogate members captured by the Kurdish party.

Ansar al-Islam tried to assassinate the president of the PUK government, Barham Saleh. The Kurdish fighters have carried out a number of operations against the Islamic group near the Iraq-Iran border.

Kurdish officials said they collected evidence, including testimonies from members of the Islamic group, confirming their link to the central government in Baghdad.

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(Reported by IHSAN AL-MUFTI in Amsterdam.)

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