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Iraq insists al-Baghdadi is in custody

IRAQ'S defense minister yesterday insisted that the head of an al-Qaida front group was indeed in custody, refuting a potentially embarrassing online denial purportedly posted by the very man who is meant to have been arrested.

Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi told lawmakers that the man captured on April 23, and later paraded in front of cameras, was Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the al-Qaida-dominated Islamic State in Iraq.

On Tuesday, however, militant Websites carried an audio message purportedly from al-Baghdadi mocking the Iraqi government for lying about his arrest and denying he had been taken captive. The recording called to mind previous claims by Iraqis of captured terror leaders that were later found to be false.

"Everyone was surprised by the lies of the Green Zone leaders who claimed again that they detained me," said the speaker in the online message.

Rita Katz, the director of the United States-based SITE Intelligence Group, which closely monitors such Websites, said the voice seemed like that of the person identified as al-Baghdadi in the past.

"It sounds as though it is the same individual," she said.

Al-Obeidi, however, pointed to the two weeks between the individual's arrest and announcement as evidence of power struggle in the group over who is to be the new leader.

"The terrorists are having differences in naming his successor," he said, adding that the suspect in custody gave up information on insurgent cells in Baghdad and Mosul.

The US military never confirmed al-Baghdadi's arrest and, in the past, has even questioned his existence, saying he could be a fictitious character used to give an Iraqi face to an organization dominated by foreign al-Qaida fighters.

Even if he does exist, it was unclear what his role is in the terror group - whether he really runs it or whether he's a figurehead.

Iraqi officials also have reported al-Baghdadi's arrest or killing before, only to later say they were wrong.

In 2007, Iraq's government reported that al-Baghdadi had been killed and released photos of what it said was his body.

Later, security officials said they had arrested al-Baghdadi. In both cases, the US military said at the time it could not be confirmed. The reports turned out to be untrue.


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