Iraqi army says Iraqi al-Qaida leader arrested
BAGHDAD - The leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, was arrested in the northern city of Mosul, the Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman said Thursday. Mohammed al-Askari said the arrest of al-Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, was confirmed to him by the Iraqi commander of the province. There was no immediate confirmation or comment from U.S. forces.
News of the arrest was also reported by Iraqi state television.
"The commander of Ninevah military operations informed me that Iraqi troops captured Abu Hamza al-Muhajir the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq," al-Askari told The Associated Press by telephone.
He did not have any further details nor did he say when the al-Qaida leader was arrested. According to unconfirmed reports, however, he was caught Thursday evening in the Tayran area in central Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. Mosul is currently a major battleground for U.S. forces and al-Qaida.
Al-Masri took over al-Qaida in Iraq after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed June 7, 2006 in a U.S. airstrike northeast of Baghdad.
U.S. officials said al-Masri joined an extremist group led by al-Qaida's No.2 official. He later joined al-Qaida 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.