Donning disguises, Iraqi gunmen seize station in standoff
BAGHDAD - Gunmen disguised as police officers seized control of a police station in western Iraq yesterday morning, killing four people and taking dozens of hostages before Iraqi forces swept in and ended the standoff, Iraqi officials said.
The three-hour hostage crisis demonstrated the vulnerability of the Iraqi security forces as American troops swiftly draw down their presence after more than eight years of war.
Four insurgents wearing explosives vests under police uniforms and armed with grenades and pistols with silencers walked into the police compound in al-Baghdadi around 9 a.m., said Brigadier General Mohammed al-Fahdawi of the Iraqi army’s Seventh Division in Anbar province. Because the gunmen were wearing police uniforms, they were not searched, he said.
The gunmen shot and killed three police officers and an employee in the mayor’s office before seizing weapons held in the police station, said Fahdawi, who coordinated the rescue operation.
After the Iraqi army arrived and exchanged gunfire with the assailants, Fahdawi said he ordered his men to storm the building. The mayor, Muhanad Zbar Mutlaq, was inside at the time.
After hearing the shooting, the mayor grabbed his cellphone and ran into the bathroom next to his office, locking the door behind him. He said he put his cellphone on silent and began sending text messages to Iraqi army officers he knows.
“Some of the terrorists entered my office and one of them picked up my landline phone when it was ringing and said: ‘We are the fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq,’ ’’ said Mutlaq.
The Islamic State of Iraq is a front group for Al Qaeda.
Two of the insurgents blew themselves up when Iraqi police stormed the station to free the estimated 40 people held inside, said Fahdawi. Security forces killed the other two assailants, he said.