BAGHDAD – Six teenage boys who said they were being trained as suicide bombers were detained Monday in the northern city of Mosul, Iraqi officials said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf told The Associated Press that the boys were between the ages of 14 and 16, and that initial investigations show they were being trained by a Saudi militant who was killed in military operations.
The soldiers were acting on tips when they found the boys in the basement of an abandoned house that was being used by insurgent groups in the Sumar area in southeastern Mosul, deputy Interior Minister Kamal Ali Hussein said later at a press conference.
He said the boys had been recruited over the last month to carry out suicide bombings against Iraqi security forces in Mosul, although the specific targets had not been revealed to them.
The insurgents had threatened to kill the boys or their families if they refused to obey, Kamal said, adding that the group included the son of a female physician, the son of a college professor and four who belonged to families of poor vendors.
"They were trained how to carry out suicide attacks with explosive belts and a date was fixed for each one of them," he said.
The U.S. military in northern Iraq said American forces were not involved and had no information about the arrests.
U.S. and Iraqi military commanders claim that Al Qaeda in Iraq is increasingly trying to use women and children in attacks to avoid stepped-up security measures. There has been a series of recent bombings by women.
Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, is believed to be the insurgent network's last urban stronghold. U.S. and Iraqi forces launch a crackdown there this month.
The Iraqi government is trying to assert control over the country and the Mosul offensive is one of a trio of major operations. The other two are focused on Shiite extremists in Baghdad's Sadr City district and the southern city of Basra.
A roadside bomb struck a U.S. mine-resistant armored vehicle known as an MRAP on a road that runs parallel to the canal on the southern edge of Sadr City, but it caused no casualties, according to the American military.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Stover said American forces have faced other roadside bombings in the district since anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army militia to stop fighting after fierce clashes that killed hundreds of people.
But he said the truce had brought the numbers sharply down.
In other violence Monday, a bomber on a motorcycle struck a checkpoint manned by Iraqi police and U.S.-allied Sunni fighters Monday north of Baghdad, killing four people, officials said.
The blast occurred about 200 yards away from the house of the head of the local awakening group, which has joined forces with the Americans against Al Qaeda in Iraq in Tarmiyah, according to a police official and a member of the group.
Those killed included a policeman, two Awakening Council guards and a civilian, according to the police. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.
A U.S. soldier also was killed and two others wounded Monday in a roadside bombing in the northern Salahuddin province, raising to at least 4,082 the number of American service members who have died in Iraq since the war started in March 2003.
Another roadside bomb exploded near an Iraqi army checkpoint on the road that leads to the Baghdad International Airport, wounding five people, including one Iraqi soldier and four civilians, police said.
The attacks came a day after the U.S. military said violence in Iraq had reached its lowest levels in four years.
Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, a U.S. military spokesman, said Sunday that the number of attacks in the past week decreased to a level "not seen since March 2004," although he did not give specific figures.
Suspected Al Qaeda fighters also kidnapped an Awakening Council leader, Sheik Saleh al-Karkhi, and his brother after blowing up his house Monday in the village of Busaleh in the volatile Diyala province north of the capital, a police official said, declining to be identified because he wasn't supposed to release the information.