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US Military Captures Top Iraqi Member of al-Qaida in Iraq

The U.S. military says it has captured the top Iraqi member of al-Qaida in Iraq. Officials say Khaled al-Mashhadani was an intermediary among top al-Qaida leaders including Osama bin Laden. From Iraq, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Khaled al-Mashhadani, also known as Abu Shahid, was captured July 4 in the northern city of Mosul.

U.S. Brigadier General Kevin Bergner told reporters in Baghdad that Mashhadani is believed to be the most senior Iraqi national in the al-Qaida in Iraq network, and is a close associate of Abu Ayub al-Masri, the Egyptian-born head of the group.

General Bergner also said Mashhadani served as an intermediary between top al-Qaida leaders Abu Ayub al-Masri, Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri.

Last year, Mashhadani and Abu Ayub al-Masri started a virtual organization on the Internet called the Islamic State of Iraq, as the new Iraqi pseudonym for al-Qaida in Iraq.

"In his words, the Islamic State of Iraq is a front organization that masks the foreign influence and leadership within al-Qaida in Iraq in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq," Bergner said.

The Islamic State in Iraq has identified its leader as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, but the general says Mashhadani told interrogators that al-Baghdadi does not exist and an actor directed by al-Masri is used to portray him in audiotapes.

The general says Mashhadani's capture has confirmed that foreign al-Qaida leaders, not Iraqis, make the operational decisions for the group inside Iraq.

"The capture of Mashhadani and his statements give us a more complete picture of al-Qaida in Iraq. Although the rank and file are largely Iraqi, the senior leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq, as we have previously stated, is mostly foreign," Bergner said.

General Bergner accused al-Qaida in Iraq of driving the country's sectarian violence.

"They are without question the main threat to the government of Iraq and to the stability of Iraq because of the role they play in accelerating and fueling sectarian violence," Bergner said.

Iraqi and coalition forces have intensified their pursuit of al-Qaida in Iraq recently in operations in several provinces around Baghdad. There has been significant success in the former al-Qaida stronghold of Anbar province, where local tribal leaders have turned against the group.