Suspect arrested in deadly Iraq blasts

Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 24, 2005 at 11:37 p.m.
BAGHDAD, Iraq - An expert bomb maker linked to some of Iraq's most sensational and deadly attacks - including lethal strikes on the United Nations, the Jordanian embassy and an Italian base - has been captured, Iraqi authorities said Monday.
The suspect, identified as Sami Muhammad Ali Said al-Jaaf - also known as Abu Umar al-Kurdi - was described in a government statement as "the most lethal" lieutenant of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant whose group has claimed credit for numerous bombings, kidnappings and assassinations. Al-Zarqawi is the most wanted man in Iraq.
Al-Jaaf has admitted under interrogation to involvement in "at least" 32 car and truck bombings that resulted in hundreds of deaths, said Thair al-Nakib, spokesman for interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Al-Jaaf also has told interrogators that he was involved in the torture and execution of an Iraqi human rights advocate, Allawi's spokesman said.
Suicide car bombs have emerged as among the most effective and terrifying weapons of the Iraqi insurgency. Authorities believe that most suicide car bombers are Sunni Muslim militants from outside Iraq. Al-Jaaf's nationality was not disclosed, but his surname indicates he probably is an Iraqi Kurd.
Al-Jaaf was arrested in a raid in Baghdad, the capital, and has confessed to building about 75 percent of the car bombs employed in Baghdad since March 2003, the prime minister's spokesman said. No details were released about how and where in Baghdad he was captured nor why the arrest was not announced until more than a week later.
Targets linked to al-Jaaf's bombs included police and government buildings, U.S. convoys, Iraqi police and military checkpoints, the Jordanian embassy and an Italian base in the southern city of Nasiriyah. The latter bombing, in November 2003, killed 28 people. Al-Jaaf was also connected with the August 2003 truck bombing of the United Nations compound that killed special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 others, the government said.
The government said that al-Jaaf's devices also resulted in the assassination of several prominent Iraqis, including Azadin Salim, a leading Shiite politician killed in May 2004. Al-Jaaf also was linked to the slaying of Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr Al Hakim, a leading Shiite cleric and political figure, who died in September 2003 in a truck-bombing outside the gold-domed Imam Ali mosque in Najaf. Scores of worshipers leaving Friday prayers also were killed in the attack. Two U.S. officials in Baghdad who asked to remain anonymous confirmed the arrest of al-Jaaf. One said al-Jaaf's name had been showing up on intelligence reports for the last year or so.
"The capture is a big deal," he said. The Iraqi government announcement came just six days before watershed national elections in which Allawi - whose office disclosed the arrest - heads a prominent slate of candidates. Allawi, who is close to U.S. officials, has come under criticism by political opponents for using his office to advance his chances of election.
In recent weeks, the government said, al-Jaff "received orders" from al-Zarqawi to target Iraqi election sites and polling stations before and during the Jan. 30 elections. U.S. and Iraqi officials are gearing up for an onslaught of attacks designed to disrupt the U.S.-backed vote.
It remains unclear how much of a dent al-Jaff's arrest puts in the al-Zarqawi network. Al-Jaaf is the latest in a series of alleged al-Zarqawi lieutenants and bomb makers to be killed or seized, but the Jordanian militant group has continued undeterred. Al-Zarqawi himself has eluded capture despite numerous U.S. raids and bombing runs designed to kill or capture him. Washington has put a $25 million price on his head, the same as for Osama bin Laden.
Also arrested, the government said Monday, were two other al-Zarqawi aides - a man described as the chief of his propaganda division, known as Dr. Hassan, and one of al-Zarqawi's weapons suppliers.

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