BAGHDAD — When police came hunting for a 19-year-old woman they believed had been recruited by al-Qaida to be a suicide bomber in a town north of Baghdad, they found that she was already dead — slain by her father, who told police he had strangled his daughter out of shame and then cut her throat.
The killing of Shahlaa al-Anbaky, reported by police Friday, appeared to be from an odd melding of motives — partly to defend the family honor, partly to prevent her from joining the militants. But it remains unclear which factors influenced her father, with police still investigating the details.
Al-Qaida has been recruiting women for suicide attacks because they can pass through police checkpoints more easily than men by concealing explosives under an abaya, a loose, black cloak that conservative Muslim women wear. Suicide bombers have been al-Qaida's most lethal weapon in Iraq, killing hundreds of civilians and members of Iraq's security forces.
The slaying took place in the town of Mandali, about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province, which only a few years ago was one of Iraq's deadliest regions, torn by attacks by al-Qaida and Sunni insurgents and vicious sectarian killings between Sunnis and Shiites.
After Sunni tribal militias turned on al-Qaida, the province became much safer. But al-Qaida militants still carry out deadly attacks in the area.
Authorities were still trying to put together a complete picture of the killing.
A Diyala police spokesman, Maj. Ghalib al-Karkhi, said security forces had information that the young woman had ties to al-Qaida, and they raided her father's home Thursday. When questioned, the father, Najim al-Anbaky, told police he had killed his daughter a month earlier because he had found out she intended to blow herself up in a suicide attack for al-Qaida.
The father, described by authorities as a small-time trader of chickens and sheep, led police to her grave in the back yard. She had been strangled, and then her throat was cut, Karkhi said.
The Associated Press said a senior Iraqi army official involved in the case gave a slightly different account, saying authorities looking for the daughter had called the father in for questioning, not knowing that the woman was dead, and the father confessed.
The father was still in custody, though no charges had been filed so far. Other relatives could not be reached for comment.
Another police official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities were investigating whether the woman had a boyfriend in al-Qaida. Records indicate that Najim al-Anbaky killed one of his sisters in 1984 in what was described as an honor killing, the official said.
A range of motives may have played a part in the killing — a strong hatred of al-Qaida in a part of the country where the group once terrorized residents, fear that the family would be punished if she carried out a bombing, and anger or shame that she might be romantically involved.
So-called "honor killings" do take place in Iraq's traditional, tribal society. In such cases, a man is said to be trying to reclaim the family honor by killing a sister, daughter or mother if there's a suspicion she has had improper relations with men outside the family. Courts and authorities sometimes turn a blind eye to such slayings.