Doubts over 'capture' of al-Qaida leader

Iraqi police commandos claim they have captured the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq in a raid in the northern city of Mosul in what would mark a significant blow to the Sunni insurgency in its last urban stronghold.

However, the US military today said there were "no operational reports" to confirm the capture of the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq as stated by Iraqi officials, adding the capture of another insurgent might have caused confusion.

Iraqi Defence Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said the arrest of Abu Ayyub al-Masri - also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir - was reported by the Iraqi commander in Mosul, where insurgents have sought to establish a foothold after being widely uprooted from Baghdad and surrounding areas last year.

Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf said the arrest occurred "at midnight and during the primary investigations he admitted that he is Abu Hamza Al-Muhajir".

The US military said today in response to an e-mailed query that "we are looking into reports that another terrorist may have been captured."

The military did not share further details on the other reported capture, but said that might have caused confusion.

There have been false alarms in the past about Al-Masri. At least twice - in 2006 and May 2007 - reports circulated that Al-Masri was dead, but they were later proved wrong.

Maj Gen Khalaf told the Iraqi state television that al-Masri was arrested during a police raid in Mosul, but gave no other details.

"Now a broader investigation of him is being conducted," he said.

Mosul was considered the last important urban staging ground for al-Qaida in Iraqi and allied groups after losing strongholds in Baghdad and other areas during the US troop surge last year.

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