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Baghdad (AFP) – More than a dozen pro-Iran fighters arrested in an unprecedented raid by elite Iraqi forces were released Monday and the case against them dropped, their group’s spokesman said.

Counter-terrorism forces detained the Kataeb Hezbollah members late Thursday for allegedly planning a rocket attack on Baghdad’s Green Zone, where the US and other embassies as well as state buildings are located.

But the 14 accused were soon handed over to the Hashed al-Shaabi, the umbrella organisation of Iraqi paramilitary groups that has been nominally incorporated into the state.

On Monday, an Iraqi judge ordered the case dropped, Kataeb Hezbollah’s military spokesman Jaafar al-Husseini told AFP.

“The judge ordered their release due to a lack of evidence. The arrests shouldn’t have happened,” he said.

Husseini said they had appeared at a Hashed military tribunal, as Iraq’s various security forces each have their own court system.

A Hashed security source confirmed the fighters’ release.

According to Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, the arrest warrants for the 14 detainees were based on the country’s counter-terror law, which carries the death penalty.

It also said the counter-terrorism forces had seized two rocket launchers during the raid as proof of the planned attack.

Kataeb stands accused by Washington of firing deadly rockets on Iraqi bases where American and other foreign troops are based, as well as against the US embassy.

The group has never claimed responsibility for the attacks but has hailed them as a way to pressure US troops out.

It is regarded as extremely powerful due to its links with neighbouring Iran, and many feared the arrests could spark wider confrontations with Iraq’s security forces.

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Suicide attack, roadside bomb kill 6 police in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide truck bomber targeted a police district headquarters in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province on Wednesday, killing three officers, a local official said. Three other police officers, including a district police chief, were killed in a roadside bombing in eastern Ghazni province.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks.

In the Kandahar attack, the suicide bomber struck in the district of Shah Wali Kot, according to Bahir Ahmadi, the provincial governor’s spokesman. The explosion also wounded 14 people, both policemen and civilians.

Ahmadi said the guards at the district headquarters realized the truck was suspicious and opened fire before it could reach the building. But the shooting set off the explosives’ load, triggering a huge blast that caused the casualties and damaged several nearby buildings as well as the district headquarters, which also houses the office of the police chief and the district administrative department.

In the roadside bombing in Ghazni, Wahidullah Jamazada, the provincial governor’s spokesman, said Habibullah, the police chief of Dayak district, was killed along with his two bodyguards. Habibullah, who like many Afghans used only one name, was inspecting checkpoints early in the morning when the attack happened, Jamazada said.

Separately, the Defense Ministry said Afghan soldiers repelled Taliban attacks on Tuesday on army checkpoints in the district of Khogyani in eastern Nangarhar province. The statement said at least 20 Taliban insurgents were killed, including their group leader.

The Taliban did not claim responsibility for the Nangarhar attack or issue any statements about it. Both the Taliban and the Islamic State group are active in eastern Afghanistan, especially in Nangarhar. Afghanistan has seen a recent spike in violence, with most attacks claimed by the local IS affiliate.

The Taliban and the Afghan forces have been trading blame over the recent surge in attacks across the country — even as peace efforts press on to try and bring about the start of a direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

The Taliban accuse government forces of targeting them in their homes, their families bearing the brunt of those anti-Taliban operations. Kabul, meanwhile, accuses the Taliban of stepping up attacks against both civilians and the security forces.

The violence has been a key obstacle to any negotiations between the Taliban and the Kabul government — talks that were envisaged by the U.S.-Taliban deal signed in late February to end 19 years of war in Afghanistan.

The deal also called for the Afghan government to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the Taliban releasing 1,000 government and military personnel they hold captive. So far, the government has freed 4,015 imprisoned insurgents while the Taliban have freed 669, according to data by the Afghan government.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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