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Report: More Libyans joining militants in Iraq

  • Story Highlights
  • "Apparent surge" of Libyan fighters began in May, report says
  • Saudis still predominant among foreign fighters, West Point researchers say
  • Suicide bomber kills 13 members of anti-al Qaeda in Iraq group, police say
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- More militants from Libya are turning up in Iraq, U.S. military researchers say.

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Iraqi men mourn over the coffin of a person killed in a suicide bombing Thursday near Baquba.

U.S. Military Academy researchers studying documents note the continuing predominance of Saudis among foreign fighters.

But an "apparent surge" in Libyans could be tied to "the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group's (LIFG) increasingly cooperative relationship with al Qaeda," a West Point report says.

The Libyan group officially joined al Qaeda on November 3, according to the report, called "Al Qaeda's Foreign Fighters in Iraq: A First Look at the Sinjar Records."

The 30-page report reviewed documents seized in a September raid in the Sinjar area close to the Syrian border. The data at that time was called "an al Qaeda Rolodex" by one official.

The report lists the identities of 595 foreign nationals who entered Iraq between August 2006 and August 2007. Of those, 244, or 41 percent, were Saudis, and 112, or 18.8 percent, were Libyans, the report said. Others were from Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco and Jordan. Video Watch where a suspected al Qaeda in Iraq torture chamber was found »

The report said that previous research found no more than 4 percent of foreign fighters were Libyan. But the records indicate that Libyans began arriving in Iraq -- almost all by way of Syria -- in greater numbers in May.

The report said that most of these recruits hail from cities in northeastern Libya, where "jihadi-linked" militants have a strong presence" and that Libyan fighters were more likely than other nationalities to be labeled as suicide bombers.

"Recent political developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the prevalence of Libyan fighters in Iraq, and the evidence of a well-established smuggling route for Libyans through Egypt, suggests that Libyan factions (primarily the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) are increasingly important in al Qaeda," the report said.

The Sinjar Records indicated that al Qaeda in Iraq uses criminals and smugglers rather than its personnel to bring militants into Iraq.

The university connection is strong, with nearly 43 percent of the 157 fighters who listed their occupations saying they were students. Other occupations were teachers, doctors and engineers. There was even a massage therapist in the group.

The average age of the fighters was 24 to 25, and the median age was 22 to 23. The age of the oldest fighter crossing into Iraq was 54 and the youngest was 15.

"The fighters' overall youth suggests that most of these individuals are first-time volunteers rather than veterans of previous jihadi struggles," the report said. "If there was a major influx of veteran jihadis into Iraq, it may have come earlier in the war. The incitement of a new generation of jihadis to join the fight in Iraq, or plan operations elsewhere, is one of the most worrisome aspects of the ongoing fight in Iraq."

The report cited "several weaknesses" among the militants that can be exploited, including political disagreements within the ranks.

It said the United States "must remain flexible enough to recognize opportunities to co-opt, rather than simply annihilate," criminals and smugglers working with jihadis.

The report noted its views are those of the authors, Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman, not the Pentagon or any other part of the U.S. government.

Other developments

  • A suicide bombing in an Iraqi village on Thursday killed 13 members of an anti-al Qaeda in Iraq group working with Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition forces, police in Baquba said. The bomber targeted the headquarters of a citizens group in Kana'an, a village about 12 miles east of Baquba, the capital of Diyala province northeast of Baghdad. Ten people were wounded. But the U.S. military said six people died in the blast, including a Coalition soldier, and 11 people were wounded -- 10 of them coalition forces.
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  • At least three people were killed and 10 others wounded Thursday when a parked car bomb exploded outside a liquor store in Baghdad, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said. The casualties were mainly shoppers and employees at the store, which was heavily damaged.
  • The U.S. military Thursday announced the release of 100 detainees at Baghdad's Camp Cropper on the previous day. It called the move a "gesture of goodwill and reconciliation during the holiday of Eid al Adha" -- the period marking the end of the hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. About 850 detainees have been freed during the hajj and Eid period. The military said most detainees went through "a review board process" and swore to a judge that they would "maintain peace and good conduct."
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    CNN's Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.

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