Al-Qaida in Iraq boss' ex-driver, aide arrested, officials say
A former driver and personal assistant to the new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq was among 32 people arrested by U.S. and Iraqi forces during a series of raids on Sept. 28, the U.S. military acknowledged Thursday.
The unnamed lieutenant was captured in one of 11 raids in the Baghdad area that day, officials said.
The raids targeted associates of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the man who was named leader of the group after U.S. forces killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi earlier this summer near Mosul.
“This is the second close associate of Abu Ayyub al-Masri captured in September,” the U.S. military command in Baghdad said in a news release. The other one was also one of al-Masri’s drivers, officials said. “Intelligence indicates his participation in the 2005 bombings of the Sheraton and the al Hamra hotels in Baghdad that killed a total of 16 people and injured 65 others.”
On Thursday, U.S. officials also downplayed a report citing Iraqi sources as saying al-Masri had possibly been killed in an Anbar province raid this week.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh and Defense Ministry spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi expressed even more certainty that the dead man was not al-Masri.
“The body belonged to someone else,” said al-Dabbagh, without identifying the slain militant. “The DNA check will be completed” to make sure, he said.
U.S. officials said that al-Qaida in Iraq members had been killed in the “recent” raid, and that initially there was a possibility al-Masri was one of the dead.
Three days after the capture of the unnamed associate, the Iraqi government released a videotape of al-Masri giving instructions on how to build a car bomb. According to the U.S. military, “intelligence indicates the suspected terrorist captured was working directly for Abu Ayyub al-Masri when the video was created.”
U.S. military forces followed a similar pattern of identifying and rounding up close associates of al-Zarqawi during the long hunt for the former al-Qaida in Iraq leader.
Al-Zarqawi and five others were killed on June 7 during an airstrike at a home near Baqouba. American troops said they tracked down Zarqawi by identifying and following his spiritual adviser, Sheik Abdul-Rahman. Rahman also was killed in the airstrike.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.