Iraq has detained 80 Al-Qaeda-linked militants who were plotting attacks during Ashura ceremonies in Karbala, where the streets were crowded with 1.5 million pilgrims Thursday. According to AFP, the arrests underscored fears of violence during the 10-day rituals in the shrine city that culminate on Friday.
Vehicle traffic inside the city, 100 kilometres south of Baghdad, was brought to a virtual standstill as pilgrims were made to walk to the shrines of the revered Imams Hussein and Abbas. All visitors were searched at checkpoints. "Based on intelligence, soldiers were able to raid 14 terrorist cells and arrest 80 militants," General Othman al-Ghanimi said. "They were planning to attack pilgrims on Friday," added Ghanimi, the Iraqi army commander responsible for security in five provinces including Karbala.
Provincial governor Amal al-Din al-Har said that 1.5 million pilgrims had already entered the city for the commemorations. Around 28,000 soldiers and police are currently securing Karbala, with a further 7,000 available if needed.