The interior minister said Tuesday authorities had foiled an Al Qaeda plot that would have put hundreds of its men at critical guard posts around Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. and other foreign embassies as well as the Iraqi government.
A senior Defense Ministry official said the 421 Al Qaeda fighters 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 interview with The Associated Press, said the 421 Al Qaeda recruits were one bureaucrat's signature away from acceptance into an Iraqi army battalion whose job 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 inside 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.
The Defense Ministry official said the plot was uncovered by the military intelligence and the General Intelligence department that works under the government.
The Green Zone has been attacked in the past with mortar rounds and rockets. A number of car bombs driven by suicide attackers have been detonated in the past two years at the entrances, killing scores of people.
On Oct. 14, 2004, two Al Qaeda members carried out a suicide attack inside the zone, hitting a market and a cafe. Six people were killed, including four Americans, and 20 people were wounded.