Iraqi security forces have detained an al-Qaida militant suspected of planning an attack targeting the World Cup in South Africa next month, an official said Monday.
Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Baghdad security services, said Abdullah Azam Saleh al-Qahtani was an officer in the Saudi army. He is suspected of planning a "terrorist act" in South Africa during the World Cup beginning June 11, al-Moussawi told a news conference in Baghdad.
He said al-Qahtani entered Iraq in 2004 and is suspected in several attacks in the capital and elsewhere in the country.
In South Africa, a police spokesman said Iraq has not notified them of the arrest.
"We have not received any official reports from them," Vish Naidoo told The Associated Press. "Whatever arrest they made there, they know, we don't know anything about it."
|An MQ-1B Predator from the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron takes off from Balad Air Base in Iraq, in this file photograph taken on June 12, 2008.|
Earlier Monday, South African police paraded fire engines, armored carriers and other vehicles through Johannesburg to show they were ready to secure the country for the World Cup.
"South Africa will be hosting the whole world, and therefore will take no chances," Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said.
In Iraq, attacks blamed on al-Qaida have continued despite the killing last month of the group's two top figures in a U.S.-assisted military operation.
On Monday, assailants disguised in Iraqi military uniforms beheaded a Sunni cleric and stuck his head on an electricity pole in the town where he preached against al-Qaida, the cleric's son and Iraqi police said.
The son of the cleric Abdullah Jassim Shakour told The Associated Press the gunmen wearing military uniforms came to the family house in the town of Sadiyah north of Baghdad, took his father into a room, killed him and walked away with his head.
The family found the headless body in the house, said the son, Mohammed. When they went to report the killing to the police, they saw his head on an electric pole in the center of the town.
"I was sleeping and screams from the street woke me up," said one of the victim's neighbors. "When I stepped out of my house, I saw the head of the cleric on the top of the pole."
The neighbor spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity out of fear of the militants. He also said the cleric was known for speaking against al-Qaida and called on worshippers to fight the militant group during last Friday's prayer.
A police official confirmed that four gunmen stormed the house in the morning and beheaded him. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Insurgents have often used Iraqi uniforms to disguise themselves during attacks. The uniforms are widely available in Iraq.
Violence in Iraq has fallen dramatically over the past few years, though Sunnis who have revolted against al-Qaida in Iraq or are perceived as cooperating with the Shiite-led government are often targeted.