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A top Al Qaeda militant captured, Jordan asserts

AMMAN -- Jordanian security forces have arrested a senior Al Qaeda operative thought to be behind kidnappings and killings of foreigners, the state news agency said yesterday .

A security official who requested anonymity was quoted by the agency as saying the man was an aide to Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda leader in Iraq.

The militant was seized during a covert operation conducted by Jordanian secret agents inside Iraq, another security source told Reuters. The suspect's identity and nationality were not disclosed.

More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 with 55 of them reported killed by captors.

``The intelligence department has arrested one of the officials of Al Qaeda in Iraq who has committed multiple crimes of theft and looting of trucks and kidnapping and killing of Jordanians and Arab citizens," the first security source told Reuters.

More details about the arrest would appear on state television today, the state news agency reported.

Zarqawi claimed responsibility for triple hotel bombings that killed 60 people in Amman in November, saying in an Internet audiotape that the hotels were home to US and Israeli spies.

He vowed more strikes against Jordan, which supported the invasion of Iraq.

The state news agency did not say whether the arrested man's operations were carried out in Iraq or in Jordan, or whether he might be linked to the Amman attack.

Officials said security forces have been vigilant since Al Qaeda militants carried out the November suicide attacks.

Zarqawi has been sentenced to death in absentia for his involvement in plots to destabilize Jordan. Jordanian officials say they have foiled many militant attacks against well-guarded embassies and tourist sites, but admit they now face unprecedented challenges.

Security sources said in March that two Iraqis and a Libyan suspected of having links with Al Qaeda in Iraq were arrested who had planned to carry out a suicide attack against a vital, undisclosed civilian Jordanian installation.

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