Top Al Qaeda Operative Sent to Gitmo After Capture Trying to Enter Iraq

The Pentagon announced Friday the capture of one of Al Qaeda's most senior and most experienced operatives, an Iraqi who was attempting to return to his native country when he was captured.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the captive is Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. He was received by the Pentagon this week from the CIA, Whitman said, but the spokesman would not say where or when al-Iraqi was captured or by whom.

Al-Iraqi is described by the Pentagon as an associate of Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden and as someone who may have been targeting Westerners outside of Iraq.

The Pentagon took custody of al-Iraqi at Guantanamo Bay, the detention center for terror suspects, Whitman said. He is the 15th so-called high-value detainee to be taken to Guantanamo Bay after being held by the CIA in secret prisons abroad. The other 14 were sent to Guantanamo Bay last September and have since undergone military hearings there to affirm their status as enemy combatants eligible for military trials.

Whitman said al-Iraqi was believed responsible for plotting cross-border attacks from Pakistan on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and that he led an effort to assassinate Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, as well as unspecified officials of the United Nations.

"Abd al-Hadi (al-Iraqi) was trying to return to his native country, Iraq, to manage Al Qaeda's affairs and possibly focus on operations outside Iraq against Western targets," Whitman said, adding that the terror suspect met with Al Qaeda members in Iran. He said he did not know when al-Iraqi was in Iran.

The Pentagon said al-Iraqi was born in Mosul, a city in northern Iraq, in 1961. Whitman said he was a key Al Qaeda paramilitary leader in Afghanistan in the late 1990s and during 2002-04 led efforts to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan with terrorist forces based in Pakistan.

In August 2005, al-Iraqi appeared in a purported Al Qaeda-made video that shows militants in Afghanistan — including Europeans, Arabs and others — preparing to attack U.S. troops and showing off what they said was a U.S. military laptop.

Al-Iraqi, speaking in the video with a scarf hiding his face, said the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have created "two fronts" for recruiting terrorists to the cause of bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

"Now all the world is united behind Mullah Omar and Sheik Osama," he says.

Whitman said al-Iraqi was associated with leaders of other extremist groups allied with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the Taliban. He worked directly with the Taliban to determine lines of communication between Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, specifically with regard to the targeting of U.S. forces, the spokesman said.