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Iraq arrests mastermind of deadly 2016 Karrada bombing

Suspect was arrested in an undisclosed foreign country, marking the second such operation carried out by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service this month
Iraqis clean debris on 11 July 2016 at the site of the bomb attack which killed nearly 300 people in Baghdad's Karrada district (AFP)

Iraq announced on Monday that it has arrested a suspect believed to be responsible for a 2016 bombing in a Baghdad shopping centre that killed nearly 300 people and wounded 250.

The attack, claimed by the Islamic State (IS) militant group, was the deadliest in the country since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

On 3 July 2016, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle in Baghdad's Karrada district while it was teeming with shoppers ahead of the end of the holy month of Ramadan. 

The explosion sparked infernos in nearby buildings like the Hadi shopping centre which was set ablaze as fires ravaged shops filled with clothing and oil-based perfumes.

"Five years after the terrorist bombing of Karrada, our brave forces succeeded in capturing the terrorist Ghazwan al-Zobai in a complex intelligence operation outside the country," Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said on Twitter.

"He is the primary culprit behind the Karrada atrocity and many others."

Army spokesman Yahya Rassoul said Zobai ”carried out many criminal operations against our people of Iraq", including several attacks in the capital.

Second high-profile arrest 

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The defeat of IS was declared in Iraq in 2017. The group's self-declared caliphate, with its headquarters in Mosul, was crushed and the remaining fighters fled to Syria or Iraq's many remote regions.

Since then, most of the south of Iraq, including the capital Baghdad, has been spared attacks by the group, which at its height made the threat of car bombings a daily occurrence.

According to a US security official speaking to AFP, the group is now "stretched", leaving it to carry out "very localised" operations against Iraqi security personnel and civilians.

Zobai’s arrest came in the second such operation conducted by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service since Iraq’s federal elections on 10 October.

Iraqi officials said they captured Sami Jasim, an IS leader, last Monday in a similar operation abroad.

A senior Iraqi military source claimed that Jasim was detained in Turkey, AFP reported, though there was no confirmation or immediate reaction from Ankara. 

Jasim had a $5m bounty on his head from the US State Department’s Rewards for Justice programme, which describes him as having been “instrumental in managing finances for IS terrorist operations”.