BAGHDAD – The homicide truck bomber who targeted Iraq's Foreign Ministry in one of the most deadly attacks this year had recently been freed from U.S. custody, an Iraqi investigator said Sunday, raising fresh concerns that former detainees will return to violence.
The revelation came as the government added more fodder to its allegations that Syria has been used as a launching pad for violence in Iraq, broadcasting a confession from a man who said he received militant training in the neighboring country.
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has taken the Aug. 19 bombings that devastated the foreign and finance ministries and killed about 100 people personally as they dealt a major blow to confidence in his administration and security forces just two months after most U.S. forces pulled back from urban areas.
The attacks have undermined his efforts to portray himself as a champion of security and restore a sense of normalcy in the capital ahead of January's parliamentary elections.
A senior Iraqi investigator said the man who carried out the attack against the Foreign Ministry was a former detainee at the U.S. detention camp known as Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.
The bomber left his identification card at a checkpoint in order to be allowed to approach the Foreign Ministry and police were able to track down his background from the information, according to the investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information.
The Americans have been releasing detainees or transferring them to Iraqi custody to comply with a security pact that took effect on Jan. 1, but some Iraqis have complained that those freed from custody have returned to violence.
The number of detainees in U.S. custody dropped to 8,947 from a high of 27,000 in 2007, the lowest it has been in more than four years, the U.S. military said Sunday.
Detainees in U.S. custody are held at three facilities — 3,572 at Camp Cropper, 4,585 at Camp Taji and 790 at Camp Bucca, according to the statement. Camp Bucca is due to be closed in mid-September.
The U.S. military says its policy is to review every detainee's file with the Iraqi government to determine whether a warrant should be issued or the inmate should be freed.
The military said 1,179 detainees facing a warrant or detention order have been transferred to the Iraqi government while 5,236 have been released.
"We work very closely with the Iraqi government to ensure releases and transfers are conducted in a safe and orderly manner," Capt. Brad Kimberly, a spokesman for U.S. detainee operations, said in the statement.
In the confession aired Sunday, the man introduced himself as a 29-year-old Saudi Arabian named Mohammed Bin Hassan Bin Abdullah al-Shimmari and said he had been encouraged by preachers in his native, mainly Sunni country to go fight U.S. forces and Shiites in Iraq.
"I was sent to a training camp in Latakia in northern Syria," he said in a statement that was aired on Iraqi state television.
After completing training, al-Shimmari said he entered Iraq through Anbar province. He said he and other foreign fighters attacked Iraqi police and kidnapped and killed Shiites, with funding from Sunni clerics in Saudi Arabia, he said.
Allegations of foreign fighters entering Iraq from neighboring countries are not new, but the Iraqi government has stepped up its rhetoric against Syria following the Aug. 19 coordinated suicide truck bombings in the heart of Baghdad.
The Iraqis have demanded that Damascus hand over several people suspected of involvement in violence in Iraq, including two Saddam loyalists accused of financing and organizing the ministry attacks.
Syria balked, saying the Iraqis provided no proof. Syrian President Bashar Assad Sunday called on Iraq to come forward with evidence indicating Syrian involvement, in comments carried by the official Syrian news agency.
Both countries recalled their ambassadors last week, raising concerns among neighboring countries that the situation could escalate.
In a bid to ease tensions, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu planned to meet leaders in Iraq and Syria on Monday, according to an aide who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to brief journalists.
Violence continued Sunday with bombers taking aim at Iraqi security forces.
A homicide car bomber struck an Iraqi military checkpoint in the mainly Sunni area of Azamiyah, killing at least one soldier and wounding 13 other people, including three civilians, according to police and Interior Ministry officials.
A roadside bomb targeted an Iraqi police patrol earlier Sunday in the mainly Shiite area of Kamaliyah in eastern Baghdad, killing one bystander and wounding four others, police and hospital officials said.