Iraq News
Security

Heet authorities search for ISIS sleeper cells

By Khalid al-Taie

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Iraqi soldiers walk outside the governor's headquarters in the Anbar province town of Heet, on April 14th, 2016, after retaking the town from the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria'. [Moadh al-Dulaimi/AFP]

To address a recent spike in terror attacks in the Anbar province town of Heet, security authorities on Monday (October 16th) began implementing a more stringent system of identity checks, a local official told Diyaruna.

This will help security forces track down any remaining "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) cells hiding out in the town, which was liberated by Iraqi forces earlier this year, he said.

The new measures come amid a rise in terror attacks in the town.

On Wednesday (October 11th), a suicide bomber detonated an explosive belt in a popular café frequented by youth, leaving dozens dead or wounded.

"The people of this city are currently being subjected to a wide-scale check of their names and personal data," Heet mayor Muhanned Zubar al-Obaidi told Diyaruna.

This is in order to verify they are not wanted on terrorism-related charges, he said, "and to find out whether they have children who are involved with ISIS or working with it".

The police and army are working with the mukhtars of residential neighbourhoods to create an integrated database of town residents, especially those who are newcomers, he said.

Hunting down sleeper cells

The purpose of the new security checks is to hunt down sleeper cells, networks, secret hideouts and supporters, and to prevent these groups from threatening the safety and security of civilians, al-Obaidi said.

The recent terrorist attack is a sign that ISIS is seeking to assert its presence in the town and boost the degraded morale of its fighters, who have suffered heavy defeats in many areas, he added.

This "cowardly terrorist operation" also aimed to shake the security forces’ confidence as they prepare to uproot the group from Rawa and al-Qaim, its last strongholds in Iraq, he added.

The new security measures have not yet netted any ISIS cell members, he said, but are expected to continue for about 10 days.

"We are not concerned that there might be large numbers of undercover elements in the city," al-Obaidi said. "We think that there are only a few terrorists planted among the people and receiving support."

"We are looking for them and we will inevitably find them and take them out," he said.

Iraqi forces recaptured Heet in mid-April 2016 after fierce fighting with ISIS, which overran the city in the summer of 2014.

Heet has a population of about 164,000, al-Obaidi said.

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