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U.S. nabs key guerrilla figure in Iraq, officials say
( 2004-01-24 11:17) (Agencies)

U.S. Special Forces troops have captured a leading figure in Ansar al-Islam, a guerrilla group operating in Iraq that the United States says has ties to al Qaeda, U.S. officials said on Friday.

Husam al-Yemeni was taken into custody during an operation last week near the town of Fallujah, about 30 miles west of Baghdad, said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"There's a strong possibility that this guy was involved in some of the major attacks in Iraq," this U.S. official said, but declined to specify which attacks.

The official described al-Yemeni as a top associate of Abu Musab Zarqawi -- who is suspected of plotting the murder of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan, overseeing a guerrilla camp in Afghanistan and having links to al Qaeda. The United States last year offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to Zarqawi's arrest or conviction.

The U.S. official said al-Yemeni was the highest ranking member of Ansar al-Islam captured by U.S. forces in Iraq to date, and was suspected of having links to al Qaeda as well. The official did not specify the man's nationality.

Ansar al-Islam is a Sunni Muslim radical group whose name means "supporters of Islam." The State Department has called it a "terrorist group" with "close links to and support from" Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, responsible for the 2001 attacks on the United States.

"We're trying to disrupt the operation by getting to the senior people in the organization," said a defense official, who described al-Yemeni as a "very significant person."

U.S. officials have said they suspect Ansar al-Islam's involvement in some of the more spectacular guerrilla attacks carried out inside Iraq after U.S. troops drove President Saddam Hussein from power.

U.S. forces struck the mountain base of Ansar al-Islam in northern Iraq in March 2003. U.S. officials suspect Zarqawi had spent time at the base.

"They were disrupted last year, but they reconvened and have been receiving arms and generally have been making pests out of themselves," said the defense official.

The officials did not offer details of the operation in which he was captured, nor did they describe the information that led to his capture.

A former leader of the group remains jailed in Norway. On Wednesday, Norway's supreme court rejected an appeal to free Mullah Krekar, an Iraqi Kurd who was the co-founder and one-time leader of Ansar al-Islam.

Krekar, 47, whose real name is Najmuddin Faraj Ahmad, was detained in Norway at the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq last year. After being freed, he was arrested again this month after police brought new charges against him of suspected terror links.

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