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Gunmen Loot, Blow Up Baghdad Jewelry Shops, Killing Owners

Iraqi policemen display a gun with a homemade silencer that was used by a gunman in the robbery of jewelery stores in Baghdad on 25 May 2010

A well-organized gang of gunmen robbed a Baghdad jewelry arcade killing more than a dozen people, before blowing up the shops they had robbed. Top Iraqi security officials are blaming al-Qaida for the attacks.

Eyewitnesses are describing the robbery of a Baghdad jewelry arcade as a scene from a Wild West movie. The gang of heavily armed robbers attacked up to a dozen shops, killing and wounding their owners, and blowing up the premises, before absconding with the loot.

Reports also say that the gunmen were wearing civilian clothes and had machine guns, as well as silencers. A young man who saw the attack describes what happened.

He says the robbers killed a number of people and wounded a number of others before taking what they stole and escaping.

Other witnesses say the gang threw explosives into the jewelry shops to scare customers, before robbing and killing their owners.

Baghdad's Security Chief, General Qassim Mohammed Atta says Iraqi security forces threw out a dragnet for the robbers after the heist.

He says that Iraqi security forces were able to kill one member of the 15-member gang responsible for the robbery and captured two others, as well as part of the heist of stolen jewelry.

Iraqi government TV reported the security commander in the Bayaa neighborhood, where the robbery took place, was arrested. A police officer told the French Press Agency that he believed some government employees were involved in the robbery.

A top Iraqi security official accused al-Qaida of the robbery, insisting the group is likely to carry out rash attacks, after its top leaders, Abu Omar al Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al Masri, were killed last month.

He says al-Qaida is going through a tough period, now that they have lost their top leaders, and all of the remaining second- and third-tier leaders are trying to prove themselves. He says everyone needs to be alert now that the group is in turmoil.

The brash, daytime robbery was not the first of its kind. Last December, robbers in military garb held up the largest bank in Kirkuk, and last July an armed gang carried out a spectacular bank heist in Baghdad, killing eight police guards.