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U.S., Iraqi forces find Falluja's 'largest weapons cache'

Iraqi and U.S. forces found explosives and ammunition in a Falluja mosque compound Wednesday.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi insurgents in Falluja were storing a huge amount of weapons and explosives in a mosque, U.S. Marines said Thursday.

A statement from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force called the find the city's "largest weapons cache to date."

The Marines said the Saad Abi Bin Waqas Mosque compound was also being used as a suspected safe house and planning site for insurgents in Falluja, according to the statement.

The statement didn't provide specific numbers of the weapons -- which were discovered by U.S. and Iraqi forces on Wednesday.

The statement did say that the mosque compound was "heavily laden with small arms, artillery shells, heavy machine guns, and anti-tank mines."

"Other buildings within the compound had mortar systems, rocket-propelled grenades, launchers, recoilless rifles and parts of surface-to-air weapons systems. Marines also found the barrel of an anti-aircraft gun outside one of the buildings."

Weapons and explosives also filled the mosque's main prayer building, the mullah's residence and, adjacent to the residence, a small shed that had been "rigged to explode," the statement said.

In addition, Iraqi forces and Marines found a vendor's truck full of explosives, grenades and bomb-making materials. The truck may have been used as a mobile bomb-making factory, the Marines' statement said.

Also, the mosque's rectory contained documents detailing "insurgent interrogations of recent kidnap victims," according to the statement.

Alleged Sunni Muslim rebel supporter Sheik Abdulla al-Janabi also had been using the mosque to preach anti-coalition rhetoric, the statement said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been mopping up remaining insurgents in the stronghold city after a two-week offensive. U.S. forces said the assault destroyed resistance command operations there.

Insurgents have used mosques as safe havens across Iraq and have launched attacks from the holy sites, taking "advantage of Multi-National Force-Iraq's respect for these sites," the Marines said.

Throughout the Iraq war, the U.S. military has said mosques are considered holy sites and are not targeted unless they are used in the insurgency.

Many mosques in Falluja lost their protective status after insurgents fired at U.S. and Iraqi forces from the mosque towers -- called minarets.

Elsewhere in Iraq, more than 5,000 troops, including Iraqi SWAT forces, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and British military are conducting anti-insurgent operations in Iraq's Babil province, south of Baghdad. (Full story)

The operations in Babil, Falluja and elsewhere are aimed at putting down anti-American fighters and rebels against Iraq's interim government in advance of the nation's first, free Democratic elections since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. Iraqi elections are scheduled for January 30.

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