U.S. says it holds top al-Qaida figure

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon said yesterday that it has taken custody of one of al-Qaida's most senior members, an experienced operational commander who had been active in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Department of Defense and U.S. intelligence officials would not say precisely when or where Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi was captured, or by whom, only that he was headed for his home country of Iraq when detained. Officials said al-Hadi was handed over to the CIA in late 2006 and has been providing critically important information about al-Qaida ever since.

"This was a very important capture. He was one of al-Qaida's highest-ranking and experienced senior operatives," said Army Col. Gary L. Keck, a Pentagon spokesman. "He had been one of the organization's key paramilitary commanders in Afghanistan, and we know he was in direct communication" with al-Qaida's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and perhaps Osama bin Laden.

Officials did not disclose where the CIA had held al-Hadi since he was captured or why he was being transferred to Guantanamo now.

Al-Hadi was also accused of launching attacks on U.S. and coalition forces from Pakistan and leading an effort to assassinate Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, as well as unspecified officials of the United Nations, according to a declassified summary of al-Hadi's alleged activities that was released yesterday by the Pentagon.

The summary said al-Hadi was trying to get back into Iraq to manage al-Qaida's affairs there "and possibly focus on operations outside Iraq against Western targets." Al-Hadi had met with al-Qaida members in Iran and "believed that they should be doing more with the fight, including supporting efforts in Iraq and causing problems within Iran," the Pentagon summary said.

Al-Hadi, who was born in Mosul, Iraq, in 1961, was transferred from CIA custody to the Pentagon this week. The handover occurred at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where al-Hadi joins 14 other accused al-Qaida leaders whose cases are being reviewed by military commissions to determine if they should face a tribunal. The Pentagon said in a statement that al-Hadi is expected to undergo a similar proceeding, given his alleged stature within the terrorist organization.

A U.S. counter-terrorism official said al-Hadi has been providing crucial information about al-Qaida's command structure and its operations, including continuing efforts to launch attacks around the world with help from senior leaders in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. That official spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he could not discuss the details of al-Hadi's arrest or the cooperation between the United States and at least one U.S. ally that participated in his capture.

"This is sensitive. It would put key foreign partners at risk, were we to disclose where he was captured," said the U.S. counter-terrorism official, who added that "the CIA was deeply involved in efforts to locate and capture this individual."

That official and others said al-Hadi was not caught in Pakistan, an allied Southeast Asia nation that Washington believes is al-Qaida's new base of operations.

Josh Meyer writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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