April 27, 2009 / 8:44 PM / 10 years ago

Detained man is Qaeda-linked insurgent leader-Iraq

(Adds background, additional comments)

BAGHDAD, April 27 (Reuters) - Iraq has confirmed the identity of a suspect captured last week as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, believed to be head of the Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qaeda-linked group, the Defence Ministry said on Monday.

Such an arrest could deal a blow to a weakened, yet still potent, insurgency in Iraq at a time when a rash of major bombings has cast a shadow over recent security gains.

"As someone who works at the Defence Ministry and in the security field, I affirm that this is Abu Omar al-Baghdadi," Mohammed al-Askari, spokesman for the Iraqi Defence Ministry, told al-Iraqiya state television.

Askari said Iraqi security forces had been secretly following Baghdadi, who arrest was reported on Thursday, for two months.

He said the arrest was carried out without American military assistance. "The operation was totally successful."

Baghdadi is said to be the head of the Islamic State of Iraq, close to al Qaeda’s main organisation in Iraq, which is led by Abu Ayyub al-Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.

Some experts have said they remain unconvinced that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi actually exists.

They believe he is a fictional character invented by al Qaeda in Iraq as a kind of corporate logo, a product of a propaganda initiative to put an Iraqi figurehead at the top of an organisation that is otherwise foreign-run.

Baghdadi is often the mouthpiece on Islamist websites. His arrest and killing have been reported before.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told the BBC that the man was Baghdadi, and said that results of an investigation would be released. The U.S. military has not yet confirmed that it believes the man was in fact Baghdadi.

Iraqi officials have in the past claimed to have captured senior al Qaeda operatives who later turned out to have been mistakenly identified.

In May last year, Iraqi officials wrongly said they had caught Masri when they mistook one of his ordinary foot soldiers for him. U.S. officials say Masri is still at large.

The widespread killing unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has subsided, but insurgents continue to carry out attacks. Last week, 150 people were killed in major attacks in two days alone.

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