BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. forces captured a man known as Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi's (search) "most trusted operations agent in all of Iraq," a U.S. general in Iraq said Thursday.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Donald Alston told reporters Thursday that Mohammed Khalif Shaiker (search), also known as Abu Talha or the emir of Mosul, was nabbed on Tuesday. The arrest was a major blow to the insurgency in the northern city of Mosul (search), Alston said.
"This is a major defeat for the Al Qaeda organization in Iraq," he said, referring to the group led by Zarqawi and allied to Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda (search) network. "Numerous reports indicated he wore a suicide vest 24 hours a day and stated that he would never surrender. Instead, Talha gave up without a fight."
Shaiker was captured on Tuesday in a quiet neighborhood of Iraq's third largest city, the Alston said. He said Shaiker put up little resistance in surrendering to coalition forces and supporting Iraqi security forces, and is fully cooperating with officials.
"He is a key lieutenant in the Al Qaeda — that has been established," Lt. Gen. James T. Conway said during a Pentagon briefing in Washington on Thursday. "We think it will be significant. He has been in charge of the [insurgency] operation up there [in Mosul] for a long time."
The general said tips from local Iraqis people and months of constant pressure had lead to the big get. U.S. and Iraqi security forces have announced the arrest of several senior associates of Zarqawi in recent weeks.
A statement released by U.S. Central Command said multiple intelligence sources led coalition forces to Shaiker's location. Military officials said Thursday that Shaiker was at an associate's house, where he was staying. According to his former associates, Shaiker never stayed more than one night at any one residence, and always wore a suicide vest, saying he would never surrender.
Zarqawi's group has been wreaking havoc in Iraq in an attempt to derail democratic progress in the country and has claimed responsibility for several of the deadliest bombings over the past 18 months.
Last December, U.S. forces in Mosul announced the capture of one of Shaiker's deputies, Abdul Aziz Sa'dun Ahmed Hamduni (search), also known as Abu Ahmed, and the next day seized another deputy.
The United States has put a $25 million bounty on Zarqawi's capture or death.