(AP) WASHINGTON – U.S. forces have captured Saddam Hussein’s top aide and presidential secretary, a man who American officials believe knows the fate of the deposed Iraqi leader and has information about banned weapons.
Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti was No. 4 on the U.S. most-wanted list of Iraqi leaders, behind only Saddam and sons Qusai and Odai.
Mahmud has detailed knowledge of Saddam’s personal security arrangements and Iraq’s alleged chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, U.S. officials said. He was ranked third in authority, they said, with more power than Odai, Saddam’s erratic elder son.
American forces captured him Monday in Iraq, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command, the military organization running operations there. It provided no details on the operation that led to his capture, nor did it say precisely where he was taken.
Some officials wondered why he was not found with Saddam. While there has been no conclusive evidence that Saddam and his sons survived the war, one defense official said some intelligence analysts increasingly believe they are alive.
As Saddam’s presidential secretary, Mahmud controlled access to the president and was one of the few people he is said to have trusted completely, U.S. officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Intelligence reports indicate that Mahmud determined which diplomats, media and even doctors could see Saddam. Only the two sons could see the Iraqi president without going through Mahmud.
Qusai, in particular, avoided befriending Mahmud so Saddam would not think they were conspiring against him, one defense official familiar with intelligence information said.
A distant cousin of Saddam, Mahmud, 46, was the ace of diamonds on the U.S. deck of cards portraying leaders of Saddam’s government. Central Command called him Saddam’s national security adviser and senior bodyguard.
Mahmud started his career as a noncommissioned officer in Saddam’s personal guard and was eventually promoted to the rank of lieutenant general. In the 1990s, he was put in charge of several security portfolios, including responsibility over places Iraq has been accused of hiding weapons programs.
U.S. officials have said they want to try Mahmud for war crimes or crimes against humanity for activities associated with his senior position in the Iraqi government.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called it a “significant capture” but provided no details. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refused to discuss the capture at a press conference.
The captured man’s name is sometimes spelled Abed Hameed Hmoud. Like Saddam and many other former Iraqi leaders, he was from Tikrit, a city north of Baghdad.
Also Wednesday, the military announced it had begun raids near Tikrit.
American troops raided two farmhouses and found $8.5 million in American cash, 300 million to 400 million Iraqi dinars and an undetermined amount of British pounds and Euros, said Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division. The troops also found more than $1 million worth of gems and jewels, he said.
The troops captured one of Saddam’s bodyguards and up to 50 other people believed to be tied to Saddam’s security or intelligence forces or paramilitary groups, Odierno told Pentagon reporters in a video news conference from his headquarters in Tikrit.
“I believe over the next three to four days, you will hear much more about the number of senior Iraqi individuals we have detained here over the last couple of days,” Odierno said. He did not mention Mahmud by name.
The U.S. troops also found Russian-made night-vision goggles and other military equipment.
Odierno said he did not know whether the cash was intended to pay bounties for attacks on American troops or to provide the Saddam loyalists with luxuries while they were in hiding.