Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Maliki confirms Baghdadi arrest

Daily Gulf News

BAGHDAD: Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki confirmed on Tuesday that Abu Omar Al Baghdadi, one of the top leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq, is being held by Iraqi authorities. "The criminal terrorist Abu Omar Al Baghdadi is in the hands of justice," Maliki's office said in a statement, referring to the shadowy leader of the group, whom the US military once said was a fictional character.

Iraqi security forces said they had arrested a man they believed to be Baghdadi last week but they were still investigating him.

The Al Qaeda leader has never been photographed.

Maliki hailed the "new victory" of Iraqi security forces in arresting Baghdadi, whom he accused of trying to ignite a civil war in Iraq through a devastating campaign of bombings against civilians and Shiite holy places.

Maliki referred to Baghdadi as "the head of evil, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq," and said he had ties to the followers of the secular regime of executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

"This terrorist has strong relations with the previous regime and made a devilish alliance with its followers that left its mark on the innocent bodies of children, women and sheikhs in bloody scenes."

Iraqi police announced on Thursday they had arrested Baghdadi in the capital and would reveal him on television but have not yet released any pictures of the man, who has been reported captured or killed several times in the past.

Baghdadi is said to be the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, a self-styled umbrella organisation for Al Qaeda-affiliated insurgent groups fighting US and Iraqi forces that has pledged loyalty to Osama Bin Laden.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali Al Dabbagh said that Baghdadi's real name is Ahmed Abed Ahmed and that he is a 40-year-old former officer in the Iraqi army.

"According to our intelligence he is Abu Omar Al Baghdadi, but we have to check very carefully because there have been a lot of Abu Omar Al Baghdadis," Dabbagh said last week.

The Pentagon praised the news of Baghdadi's capture at the time it happened, saying he was "believed to be a key leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq for some time."

But in July 2007 a US military spokesman had said Baghdadi was a fictional character designed to put an Iraqi face on a terror group led by foreigners and that the voice on his audiotapes was that of an actor.

The US military has always said that the real leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq is Abu Hamza Al Muhajir -- better known as Abu Ayyub Al Masri -- a veteran Egyptian militant named Al Qaeda chief in June 2006 following the death of his better-known Jordanian predecessor Abu Musab Al Zarqawi in a US air raid.

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