A senior member of the Islamic Movement in Kurdistan said on Sunday the 70-year old spiritual leader, Sheikh Ali Abdul Aziz was arrested together with 14 others.

"Some 2,000 US soldiers backed by armoured vehicles,  helicopters, and warplanes entered the city of Halabja, imposed a curfew there, stormed the house of Sheikh Ali Abdel Aziz, and ripped up copies of the Holy Quran,” the member, Ehsan Abdel Aziz said.

Among the others arrested were Mullah Omar, the brother of the spiritual leader and several bodyguards.

The arrests evoked strong reactions from the group.

“It seems the US forces plan to spark up ethnic disagreements in Iraq and arrest Sunni clerics,” alleged Ehsan Abdel Aziz. 

“However, we absolutely reject their actions,” he added

'It seems the US forces plan to spark up ethnic disagreements in Iraq and arrest Sunni clerics'

--a spokesman for the Islamic Movement in Kurdistan

French news agency, AFP quoted another member, expressing surprise at the "arrest of a spiritual guide who has long since declared war on the Baath party and the former regime in Iraq.”

The member accused the US troops of now attacking “supporters of freedom and enemies of Saddam Hussein’s regime.”

He claimed to know nothing about where the spiritual leader was being held.

While the US forces said nothing about the arrests, sources close to the group said the US forces had asked the group to vacate its Arbil office to the occupation troops, without elaborating.

The group said last month its chief, Ali Baper was arrested along with three aides and a number of bodyguards on 10 July en route to a meeting with an US-occupation officer in Iraqi Kurdistan.