Published May 08, 2008
A joint Iraqi-American raid in the northern city of Mosul has resulted in the arrest of the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, a spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Defense told FOX News on Thursday, but U.S. officials aren't convinced yet of the suspect's identity.
DNA tests are being conducted to confirm the man captured is Abu Ayyub al-Masri. U.S. officials are cautious because al-Masri is an elusive figure and previous reports of his death or capture all turned out to be false.
One U.S. source tells FOX News that the intelligence community is "extremely skeptical" that al-Masri has been arrested.
If al-Masri's identity is confirmed, however, the arrest would be a significant blow to Al Qaeda in Iraq, not so much because of the disruption to its leadership but because of the information he may be able to provide.
Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said that Mosul police "arrested one of Al Qaeda's leaders at midnight and during the primary investigations he admitted that he is Abu Hamza Al-Muhajir," according to the Associated Press.
News of the arrest was also reported by Iraqi state television and Arab satellite TV stations.
The state channel, Iraqiya, said that Minister of Interior Jawad al-Bolani would reward Mosul police for the capture.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khalaf told the station by phone that a source close to the al-Qaida leader informed Mosul police that al-Masri would be at a house in the city's Wadi Hajar area at midnight Wednesday.
"The police raided this house and arrested him. During the primary investigation, he confessed that he is Abu Hamza Al-Muhajir, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Now a broader investigation of him is being conducted," he said to Iraqiya.
The U.S. military considers Al Qaeda in Iraq its number one enemy in Iraq.
"The commander of Ninevah military operations informed me that Iraqi troops captured Abu Hamza al-Muhajir the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq," al-Askari told The Associated Press by telephone.
He did not have any further details nor did he say when the Al Qaeda leader was arrested. According to unconfirmed reports he was caught Thursday evening in the Tayran area in central Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Al-Masri, an Egyptian militant, took over al-Qaida in Iraq after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed June 7, 2006 in a U.S. airstrike northeast of Baghdad.
The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization that includes Al Qaeda in Iraq, last year announced an "Islamic Cabinet" for Iraq and named al-Masri as "minister of war."
U.S. officials said al-Masri joined an extremist group led by Al Qaeda's No.2 official in 1982. He joined Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in 1999 and trained as a car bombing expert before traveling to Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
According to associates in Afghanistan, al-Masri has been involved in Islamic extremist movements since 1982, when he joined Islamic Jihad, a terror group led by Ayman al-Zawahri, who became bin Laden's chief deputy.
Al-Masri fought with Muslim rebels against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and later ran Al Qaeda training camps there.
FOX News' Catherine Herridge and the Associated Press contributed to this report.