The head of an alleged al-Qaida in Iraq assassination squad that killed at least two Iraqi policemen and possibly more in Fallujah has been arrested in Arizona and faces extradition to Iraq to stand trial.
Ali Yousif Ahmed Al-Nouri, 42, faces two murder charges in Iraq for the 2006 assassinations. He faces a detention and extradition hearing on Wednesday in federal court in Arizona.
Iraqi investigators complied witnesses statements immediately after the separate 2006 killings, ultimately finding that Nouri was living near Phoenix through Facebook searches, according to court documents.
Combined eyewitness accounts identified Nouri as the leader of a cell of al-Qaida in Iraq operating in Anbar Province, mostly in Fallujah, where he worked as a carpenter.
Members of the killing crew who were later arrested also told police that Nouri was the emir, or group leader.
On June 1, 2006, two cars pulled up to a storefront on Street 40 in Fallujah, where Fallujah police 1st. Lt. Issam Ahmed Hussein, 33, was sitting with an unidentified person. Nouri, who was not wearing a mask, exited one of the vehicles along with six other masked individuals, according to court documents.
Nouri carried a 9mm handgun, the rest of the assailants carried AK-47s. Multiple witnesses later told police that Nouri said, “leave him, this is 1st Lieutenant Issam and he serves as a policeman” another said, “Ali step back, it is none of your business.”
The group then opened fire, killing Hussein.
Four months later, in October, Khalid Ibrahim Mohammed, 20, was sitting with two individuals outside of a store when two cars drove up and immediately began shooting at Mohammed. He and two other bystanders were killed in the barrage of fire, according to witness statements.
Other killings are under investigation involving Nouri, but the two policemen are the first to result in formal charges, according to court documents.
Iraqi case information filed to support the charges and extradition said that Nouri was shot in the cheek during one of his alleged assassinations. After receiving the injury, he left the area for treatment and then fled to Syria, where he stayed for an undisclosed amount of time, before arriving in the United States.
Investigators were later able to find photos, phone numbers and email addresses along with online advertisements for a driving school with Nouri’s photo on Facebook and other websites, which helped narrow the search to his residence in Surprise, Arizona, near Phoenix.
A U.S. Attorney’s Office statement announcing Nouri’s arrest did not provide information for how long he has resided in the United States.
Nouri’s defense attorney challenged the charges in an email to local media.
“At this early stage we know little more than what is alleged in the complaint, but even that is troubling,” wrote Ahmed’s attorney, Jami Johnson. “The charge appears to be based on events over 12 years old and to originate from Iraqi informants with nothing to lose and everything to gain by delivering the Trump administration a supposed ‘terrorist refugee’ in an election year.”
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.