PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - It was one of the largest caches of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, found in Iraq. Investigators referred to the site as an "IED factory." Bombs created there were linked to the deaths of at least four U.S. soldiers, possibly dozens more.
[DIGITAL EXTRA: Conversation with terrorism expert Daniel Rothenberg]
Twelve years later, evidence found at the so-called "Omar Cache," named for the street in Baghdad where the IED factory was located, led to a life sentence for the man investigators say was involved in research and development of new IED technology for a notorious insurgent group.
Ahmad Ibrahim Al-Ahmad stood trial in Phoenix earlier this year and was sentenced Wednesday. The story of how he ended up in a federal courtroom in the Arizona desert is complex. It follows a trail from Al-Ahmad's birthplace in Syria to China, where he is alleged to have assembled circuit boards for remote-controlled IEDs, to Iraq where those IEDs were used against U.S. forces, to a microchip manufacturer in Chandler, where he is alleged to have purchased computer components for those IEDs, to Turkey where he was arrested four years ago.
Prosecutors say Al-Ahmad sold his technology to an Iraqi insurgent group called the 1920 Revolution Brigade, which was known for using IEDs against U.S. forces in Iraq between 2007 and 2010.
The group claimed to have launched 230 IED attacks on U.S. forces.
"It’s a shadowy organization, like most of these groups. That is to say it is clandestine. They targeted U.S. forces in particular, and most believe that they are composed of former Iraqi security services professionals," said Daniel Rothenberg, who is the co-director of the Center on the Future of War at Arizona State University. Rothenberg was in Iraq, on and off, from 2004 until 2010.
"It was really quite a coup for investigators to be able to capture this person, because the bomb makers, those who really had the technical, logical sophistication to build these bombs, were enormously significant players on all sides," said Rothenberg.
According to court records, investigators found Al-Ahmad's fingerprints on some electronic components in the Omar Cache. Those prints, along with emails and testimony from witnesses and informants, eventually led a U.S. magistrate to issue an arrest warrant in 2011. Al-Ahmad was arrested in Istanbul, Turkey in 2014.
There is no indication that the microchip manufacturer in Chandler knew what Al-Ahmad was doing with the components he purchased for his IEDs.
"Like many technologies used in asymmetrical warfare, the IED -- its elements are often elements that were not originally made for an explosive," said Rothenberg.
But the purchases from Arizona were enough for prosecutors to try Al-Ahmad in Arizona.