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Former Iraqi Intelligence Chief Captured - 2003-04-25

U.S. officials say the former head of Iraqi Intelligence, Farouk Hijazi, has been detained by U.S. forces near Iraq's border with Syria. As VOA's American officials have not provided details of how Farouk Hijazi came into American hands, whether he surrendered himself or was arrested. Reports say only that he was picked up in Iraq near the border with Syria on Thursday.

He is the 13th senior Iraqi official to be arrested, although he is not on the U.S. list of 55 most wanted former members of the Saddam Hussein regime. He is accused of plotting to assassinate former President George Bush in the 1990s.

Just hours earlier U.S. military officials announced that Iraq's former deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, is now in U.S. custody and is undergoing interrogation.

The U.S. Central Command says Mr. Aziz turned himself over to U.S. forces late Thursday in Baghdad.

American officials hope that the highest-ranking official in their custody so far will give them information on the whereabouts of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Aziz has long been one of the Iraqi regime's most recognizable figures. He was the former Iraqi leader's main foreign policy adviser, and the chief intermediary between Baghdad and the West.

On Wednesday, U.S. officials announced the capture of three former Iraqi officials, including the man listed 10th on their most wanted list, Muzahim Sa'b Hassan al-Tikriti, commander of Iraq's air defenses. They are also holding the former Iraqi trade minister and the ex-chief of military intelligence.

Meanwhile, a senior Sunni Muslim cleric has urged Muslims to reject the American presence in Iraq, which he likened to the "tyranny" of Saddam Hussein. Sheikh Moayyad Ibrahim al-Aadhami called on worshippers in his Friday sermon at the Abi Hanifah Nouman mosque in Baghdad to say no to America and no to occupation. As he put it, "we won't replace one tyrant with another."

Sheikh al-Aadhami also called on Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims to live in harmony and to not be split by sectarianism.

Shi'ite Muslims make up 60 percent of Iraq's population of about 26 million people but they were repressed by Saddam's government before it was toppled by U.S.-led forces.

Thousand of Iraqis have staged anti-U.S. protests since the U.S.-led invasion. However, this Friday there were no signs of any major protests in the Iraqi capital.