Iraqis recall trauma of Baghdad's worst terrorist attack after mastermind's arrest

Iraq has apprehended the man behind a deadly attack that killed over 300 people in Karradah

Iraqis in the popular Baghdad district of Karradah expressed relief and happiness following the arrest of the mastermind behind the deadly bombing of its shopping centre in July 2016.

The blast killed at least 300 people and wounded hundreds of others.

The suicide lorry bombing was the deadliest attack by a single bomber in the Iraqi capital after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Why did you kill them? What did you gain from killing them? Answer me what did you gain?
Grieving Iraqi mother to terror suspect

“Despite the deep sorrow that I have been living with, I was happy when I heard the news,” 70-year-old Muhsin Skheir Gzar’s, who lost his son, told The National.

Mr Gzar’s son, 25-year-old Hameed, was inside his clothing shop in Karradah market when the truck exploded.

“It was a criminal and heinous act,” Mr Gzar said, his voice quivering.

“The incident has made me look older than my real age by at least 25 years,” he said, sitting in a small cafe near the site of the bombing.

“Pain and sorrow have not abandoned us and everything is bleak around us since then,” he said, wearing a black dishdasha, a sign of mourning.

“I have not forgotten my son in a single day all these years,” he added.

Deep distress led to the death of his mother two years after the incident and Mr Gzar's has suffered with hypertension and diabetes.

“Our house was beautiful, full of laughter and happiness, but it has been demolished,” the father of four said, breaking into tears.

From Al Qaeda to ISIS

Iraqi authorities announced the arrest of a man identified as Ghazwan Al Zobai after a complex operation that was carried out with the co-operation of an unnamed neighbouring country.

He had been tracked by authorities for months, but security forces did not say which country he was detained in, only that “it was foreign”.

Images of Al Zobai after his capture showed a blindfolded captive, flanked by Iraqi special forces on board an Iraqi C-130 Hercules, suggesting he was being flown into Iraq from a neighbouring country, possibly Syria.

In an interview with Al Hadath Television network, Al Zobai said he was an Al Qaeda militant when he was imprisoned by the Americans in Iraq at the Camp Cropper prison until 2008. He escaped from Abu Ghraib prison in 2013 during a mass jailbreak, when hundreds of prisoners escaped, and then joined ISIS.

In a video, he was confronted by one of the mothers who had lost her son in the Karradah attack.

“Why did you kill them? What did you gain from killing them? Answer me what did you gain?” she said.

“You didn’t think about the families of victims that you killed? The men and women did not do anything wrong in life,” she told Al Zobai, as he stood with his head down.

For years those who lost their loved ones have demanded that perpetrators be held responsible and tried by an international court.

“We need to know who financed and planned for this attack and others from behind the borders,” said Ghanim Oraibi, 60, who lost his son and son-in-law.

“Iraq is unable to face the countries who supported these gangs and that’s why we want an international court to deal with it,” added Mr Oraibi, a former defender in the Iraqi national football team during the 1986 World Cup.

“We want to know the truth, who killed our sons. We want to see these criminals hanged,” he said.

The arrest has revived disturbing memories for those who survived the attack and own shops in the busy area.

“We are living the tragedy again,” said a shop owner who narrowly escaped the bombing, taking a deep puff of a cigarette.

He remembered how he and others picked up charred bodies after the explosion and inferno.

“All were burnt out like chicken in the oven,” he said.

“I took part in the rescue operations but collapsed on the second day and couldn’t continue. I was afraid to sleep alone for three months after the attack,” he said.

“I’m not happy with his arrest,” he added. “He’ll be put in a prison where he can find good accommodation".

“He was living his life normally all these years while his victims are buried and their families have lived in grief,” he said.

Pointing to the place where the bomb exploded, he said: “He has to be executed here”.

“They just need to hang him here and we’ll take care of him and I don’t want to hear those who speak about human rights”.

Updated: October 19th 2021, 4:27 PM