Iraq says it has captured militant who oversaw UN bombing
BAGHDAD - Iraqi authorities have captured a senior leader of a militant group linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq who oversaw the 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad and other attacks, the military said yesterday.
The truck bomb that tore through the UN offices on Aug. 19, 2003, killed 22 people, including mission chief Sergio Vieira de Mello.
The blast and a subsequent attack days later prompted the global body to temporarily pull out of Iraq.
Baghdad’s top military spokesman announced the capture of Ali Hussein Alwan Hamid al-Azzawi in a televised news conference that included videotaped statements by a man who identified himself as the insurgent leader as well as lower-level accomplices.
The spokesman, Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, said Azzawi was apprehended June 26 in his house in eastern Baghdad.
Authorities kept the arrest quiet for more than half a year to ensure the capture of other suspects believed to be linked to him, Moussawi said later.
The announcement was made as Iraq’s government looks to reassure voters it can keep the country safe before a parliamentary election in March. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made improved security one of the centerpieces of his reelection bid.
In the video, the man said he served as a top administrator for the Islamic State of Iraq, a group that purports to speak for various insurgent factions linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq. He also said he worked as a pilot for national airline Iraqi Airways.
“He had direct responsibility for many terrorist operations,’’ Moussawi said.
The Islamic State of Iraq has claimed responsibility for a number of high-profile attacks in recent months that have shaken confidence in Iraq’s security, including a double bombing Dec. 30 that killed 24 people and severely injured a provincial governor.
Besides the UN attack, authorities said Azzawi supervised several bombings through 2008. Azzawi was also responsible for maintaining ties between Al Qaeda operatives in Iraq and Europe, according to Moussawi.
Evidence against Azzawi included the confessions and computer files, the military spokesman said.