TIKRIT, Iraq – American soldiers carried out pre-dawn raids Thursday in Saddam Hussein's hometown and detained more than a dozen suspects, some believed to be involved in setting up a new terrorist cell (search), the U.S. military said.
Under the cover of darkness, 4th Infantry Division troops fanned out across downtown Tikrit (search), 120 miles north of Baghdad, raiding six houses.
U.S. forces had "reliable intelligence" that the suspects were involved in establishing a "new terrorist network in Tikrit and planning terrorist attacks against coalition forces," Lt. Col. Steve Russell told The Associated Press after the operation.
The area around Tikrit has been the scene of increased attacks on U.S. troops that coalition forces blame on Saddam supporters and members of his Fedayeen (search) militia.
This region in northern Iraq is part of the Sunni Triangle, an area to the north and west of Baghdad that is considered a hotbed of anti-American sentiment.
U.S. troops detained 14 suspects, including four identified as "targeted individuals," said Russell, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division.
Russell said the other 10 men were taken into custody for questioning because they were closely related to the four and could provide "additional information."
"We continue to work against these cells, to disrupt, capture or kill them," Russell said.
Sweeping into two houses at a time, the troops took all the men found on the premises into the courtyards, allowing women and children to remain inside the homes. The men were told to kneel on the ground as troops put hoods put over their heads and tied their hands behind their backs.
Later, the men were led to a field near a local school and lined up against the school wall. The wall was painted with pro-Saddam graffiti and calls for Jihad, or Holy War, in Arabic: "God, our land, our president" and "Youth of Tikrit, rise up against Americans."
An older man, the father of two of the suspects, was released and returned to his home while the rest were trucked away.
The raiders discovered false identification cards and multiple fake license plates with "official government stickers" in one of the houses, Russell said.
"This is obviously an early indication of the activity they were involved in," he added.
The raiders have successfully cracked down on anti-coalition supporters in the region in the past, often acting upon local intelligence and tips from informants sympathetic to the efforts of the troops.
"The trust in us has increased because we have put many bad guys away," Russell said.