Al-Qaeda's front group in Iraq denied on Friday that 12 of its militants had been arrested in Baghdad in connection with last month's deadly cathedral siege, the SITE Intelligence Group reported.

A statement posted by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) on jihadist websites said Iraqi claims of the arrests were fabricated by the Baghdad government, the US-based group said.

ISI accused the Iraqi authorities of "patching news due to the failure of their futile security agencies.""Here we declare that this news is completely far from the truth," the statement said.

"If it is true that 10 'terrorists' or less 'according to their claims' were able to shake the earth from beneath their feet in Baghdad, how about tens like them or hundreds? How about if they are thousands?"

On November 27 an Iraqi interior ministry official announced the arrest of 12 militants, including ISI's chief in Baghdad Huthaifa al-Batawi, suspected of helping to take Christians hostage in a church siege.

at the heart of every project "Police have arrested 12 members of the group responsible for the attack against the church," the official said, without saying when they were detained.He also said that senior ISI leader Ammar al-Najadi had been killed in raids in Baghdad's east and west.

The arrests were the first reported by Iraqi authorities since the October 31 attack on a Baghdad cathedral and ensuing shoot-out when troops stormed it. In all 44 worshippers, two priests and seven security force personnel were killed.

On Thursday Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad Bolani said that 39 other suspected ISI members had been arrested in the mostly Sunni western province of Anbar.

Major General Dhia Hussein said that among those detained were Hazim al-Azzawi, an ISI "minister," Ahmed Hussein Ali, ISI's "Mufti of Anbar" and Abdul Razzaq, the organisation's media chief.

Copyright AFP 2010.



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