Iraqi officials said today they were holding a top al-Qaida official, but not the terror mastermind Abu Omar al-Baghdadi who they believed was captured a day earlier.
“After preliminary investigations, it was proven that the arrested al-Qaida person is not Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, but, in fact, another important al-Qaida official,” said Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Mousawi, an Iraqi military spokesman.
“Interrogations and investigations are still under way to get more information,” he said.
It was al-Mousawi who announced late Friday that al-Baghdadi had been captured.
A senior adviser to prime minister Nouri Maliki also said that al-Baghdadi had been taken into custody.
The reported arrest followed rumours this week that al-Baghdadi’s brother had been arrested in a raid near Tikrit.
Almost nothing is known of al-Baghdadi, including his real name and what he looks like, and his capture would be difficult for officials to verify.
The man was captured Friday along with several other insurgents in a raid on the western outskirts of Baghdad, officials said.
Al-Mousawi said the suspect at first identified himself as al-Baghdadi, and that his identity was also corroborated by another man captured with him.
Al-Baghdadi is believed to lead the shadowy Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qaida-inspired group that challenged the authority of Iraq’s elected government. He has also signed militant messages posted online, as the leader of the Mujahedeen Shura Council – an umbrella group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq.
US officials in Baghdad said they were looking into the arrest but could not confirm the suspect’s identity. In Washington, Defence Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said Pentagon officials had received no official confirmation that al-Baghdadi was captured.
US and Iraqi forces have increasingly focused on al-Baghdadi’s group in their fight against Sunni insurgents, especially the hardcore religious extremists who have shown no interest in negotiating an end to their struggle.
However, some analysts have pointed out that the al-Qaida-linked extremists rebounded following the death last June of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the charismatic al-Qaida in Iraq leader who died in a US airstrike in Diyala province.
The self-styled Islamic State of Iraq was proclaimed in October, when a militant network that includes al-Qaida in Iraq announced in a video that it had established an Islamic state in six provinces including Baghdad that have large Sunni populations, along with parts of two other central provinces that are predominantly Shiite.