Rumors of al-Zarqawi capture persist

Sunday, January 23, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's interior minister on Saturday refused to comment on rumors that the top terror leader in the country had been taken into custody.

"I wouldn't like to comment for the time being," Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib said when asked about rumors that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been arrested. "Let's see. Maybe in the next few days we will make a comment about it."

Pressing him, a reporter asked, "Does that mean he is in custody?"

"No comment," the minister repeated, although he said that arrest warrants had been issued for al-Zarqawi and several officials from Saddam Hussein's regime, including Saddam deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri and the ousted leader's half brother, Sabaawi al-Hassan.

The rumors followed an interview aired on an Arab television station earlier this month in which a Saudi man arrested for a deadly truck bombing claimed that he heard from other insurgents that al-Zarqawi had been arrested by Iraqi police in Fallujah but released because authorities didn't recognize him.

Rumors spread that Iraqi authorities had al-Zarqawi in custody but were waiting to announce it just before the Jan. 30 elections.

Al-Zarqawi, the leader of Iraq's al-Qaida affiliate, has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces, along with the kidnappings and the beheadings of several foreigners, including Americans.

In an audiotape posted Thursday on the Web, a speaker who identified himself as al-Zarqawi called on his followers to prepare for a long struggle against the Americans and denounced Iraqi Shiites for fighting alongside U.S. troops in last November's assault on the rebel stronghold of Fallujah.

The United States has offered a $25 million reward for al-Zarqawi's capture or death -- the same amount as for Osama bin Laden.

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