A government delegation arrived in Najaf Wednesday afternoon to discuss the closure of Najaf’s international airport. The delegation included the ministers of defense, transport and national security.
A source in Najaf’s province council told Al-Sumaria News that “the three ministers went immediately to a meeting with governor Adnan Zurfi to discuss the situation at the airport, which has been shut down for several days” adding that “they [the ministers] are currently at a meeting over the same issue with the members of the province council.”
Najaf’s province council chief Fayid Shemmeri announced Tuesday that a protest against the closure of the airport has been postponed after PM pledged to find a solution for the situation. Other sources stressed that the airport was shut down because of threats of an attack on the Imam Ali shrine using a civilian airliner.
Authorities had shut down Baghdad and Najaf airport last weeks for “technical reasons”. Baghdad’s airport was reopened hours later while Najaf’s remained closed.
A high-level source at the Counterterrorism Bureau revealed that “intelligence helped thwart a plot to attack the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf by an aircraft departing Najaf’s airport. As a result security authorities decided to shut down the airport immediately and cancel all flights until further notice.”
Another source from the Iraqi intelligence service speaking on condition of anonymity told an Iraqi newspaper Wednesday that “intelligence reports indicated that Al-Qaeda was very close to conducting a spectacular operation using new methods in Iraq…security forces tracked the clues to discover that Al-Qaeda is planning to blow up either the dome of Imam Ali’s shrine or the court between the two shrines of Karbala using civilian aircraft hijacked from Najaf’s airport.”
Update: AP confirms the reports:
"BAGHDAD – Iraqi and U.S. security officials say Iraqi forces have foiled an al-Qaida in Iraq plot for a 9/11-style attack to hijack airlines and fly them into Shiite holy shrines.
Two senior Iraqi officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday they have arrested two men allegedly linked to the plan, which shut down the airport in Najaf for days and Baghdad airport for hours last week.
Two senior U.S. intelligence officials in Washington confirmed the plot but said it's doubtful the alleged plotters were very far along in their planning — or even had the ability to carry it out.
The officials say the plan was aimed at re-igniting sectarian violence.
All spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing."
Update: US intelligence officials confirm the plot existed:
"Two U.S. intelligence officials in Washington confirmed the plot but said it did not appear to be fully planned out, nor was it clear that militants would be able to carry out any attacks.
Still, they said the threats were being taken seriously as "the intent seems real," according to one of the U.S. officials.
Meeting Wednesday afternoon with local lawmakers in Najaf, Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi said the airport "will be reopened soon, after discussing the needed security measures." He said the intelligence about the attacks is unclear but "at the same time, we can't neglect them."
He did not confirm or comment on any of the specific allegations.
The Iraqi security officials said al-Qaida planned to hijack flights as they were leaving Iraqi airports. Authorities shut down airports in Najaf and Baghdad last week in response to the threat, the officials said. The Najaf airport has been closed since April 8 and Baghdad's International Airport shut down for a few hours on April 7 in what officials then blamed on radar problems.
One of the Iraqi security officials denied that Wednesday, saying it was closed because of the threatened plot.
The Iraqi officials said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is aware of the plot and has ordered stepped-up screening measures at all airports."