BAGHDAD, Iraq – "Chemical Ali" has been captured, U.S. Central Command confirmed Thursday morning.
Ali Hassan al-Majid al-Tikriti (search), a first cousin of former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein and a powerful Baath Party (search) official linked to some of the regime's most brutal acts, is the King of Spades and No. 5 in the U.S. Army's deck of "Most Wanted" playing cards.
A senior defense official said he was captured on Sunday in the company of bodyguards, but not with other top Iraqis. Central Command did not immediately say how al-Majid was captured or where he was being held.
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Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, said at a Pentagon news conference Thursday that he could not offer more details because "it would give away things we do not want to give away."
There were indications Ali had been connected to anti-American activity in Iraq, he added.
"Chemical Ali has been active in some ways in influencing people around him in a regional way," Abizaid said.
Ali got his nickname by supervising chemical attacks upon Kurdish civilians the regime accused of aiding Iranian forces during the last years of the Iran-Iraq war. Thousands of Kurds died, including 5,000 in a single cyanide attack on the border town of Halabja (search) in March 1988.
Ali has also been linked to crackdowns on Shiites in southern Iraq, and was governor of Kuwait for part of Iraq's seven-month occupation of the emirate in 1990-1991.
Ali was an uncle of Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel al-Majid (search), the Saddam son-in-law who ran Iraq's clandestine weapons programs before defecting to Jordan with his brother, another Saddam son-in-law, in 1995.
The pair were lured back to Iraq with promises of clemency, but once back in Baghdad were forced to divorce Saddam's daughters and then killed.
Before the 1968 revolution, Ali was a motorcycle messenger in the Iraqi army. Under his cousin's rule, he was defense minister from 1991 to 1995.
Ali also was part of the "Jihaz Haneen," or "apparatus of yearning," the secret intelligence organization Saddam formed inside the Baath to eliminate rivals and traitors and carry out assassinations.
It played a key role in the July 17, 1968, coup that overthrew President Abdel-Salim Arif and thrust Saddam securely on the path to power.
Ali had been closely linked with Saddam since the 1960s when they were members of the then-underground Baath Party which ruled Iraq until the U.S.-led coalition invaded.
When Saddam took over from President Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr in July 1979, he promoted his cousin to full general even though his military skills were negligible.
By the mid-1980s, with the war against Iran raging, Ali was coordinating Iraq's five intelligence and security services and joined the "Makhtab al-Khas," or Special Bureau, through which Saddam and his tight-knit inner circle ran the intelligence apparatus.
Saddam appointed him to the 17-member Regional Command of the Baath Party in 1984, and he sat on that decision-making body until Saddam's government fell on April 9.
He earned the soubriquet "butcher of the Kurds" for his savage campaign in northeast Iraq during the war against Iran. Aside from the chemical attacks, some 4,000 villages were razed and hundreds of thousands of Kurds forcibly relocated to Iraq's southern deserts.
After Saddam invaded Kuwait in August 1990, he named Ali governor of the conquered emirate for the first three months of the seven-month occupation. By all accounts, he supervised the systematic looting and suppression of the city-state before he returning to Baghdad in November 1990.
American forces thought they had killed Ali during the first weeks of the war when they bombed his house in Basra, but it became clear within several days that he had escaped.
A body believed to be his was found by British troops at the site, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "We believe that the reign of terror of Chemical Ali has come to an end."
But Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in June that interrogations of Iraqi prisoners indicated that he might still be alive.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.