Leader of al-Qa'ida in Iraq Reported "Captured" in Mosul Raid

Editor's Note: the BBC is reporting that the "United States military in Iraq says a man detained in the northern city of Mosul is not in fact the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq."

The leader of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, has been arrested, according to the country's Defense Ministry.

The Egyptian-born militant, who took over as leader of the group from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi after he was killed in a U.S. air-strike in June 2006, was apprehended late last night in the northern city of Mosul, unconfirmed reports claimed. He is now being held and questioned by U.S. forces, according to some reports, also unconfirmed.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said the arrest of Masri -- also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir -- was confirmed to him by the Iraqi commander of the province, but there was no immediate confirmation of the arrest from U.S. forces or the White House, which considers the militant as its number one target in Iraq.

The U.S. military in Baghdad said: "We are currently checking with Iraqi authorities to confirm the accuracy of this information."

The Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul-Karim Khalaf told the Associated Press in Iraq that Mosul police "arrested one of al-Qa'ida's leaders at midnight and during the primary investigations he admitted that he is Abu Hamza Al-Muhajir."

Mr Al-Askari told AP: "The commander of Ninevah military operations informed me that Iraqi troops captured Abu Hamza al-Muhajir the leader of al-Qa'ida in Iraq."

The militant, who based himself in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, was reportedly found in the Tayran area in central Mosul, 225 miles north-west of Baghdad. The arrest was reported by Iraqi media including the country's state television channel.

Masri is believed to have helped Zarqawi form the first al-Qa'ida cell in Baghdad. After he took over the leadership he pledged to "continue what Sheikh Abu Musab began" and avenge his death with attacks that would "turn your children's hair white".

The presence of al-Qa'ida in Iraq has become an election issue in the US, where the Democrat frontrunner Barack Obama has pointed out that the group was not operating inside the country until after the US-led invasion backed by the Republican candidate John McCain and –- at the time -– the Democrat rival Hillary Clinton.

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