Nando Times – WASHINGTON – U.S. forces near Baghdad have captured a man they describe as a midlevel terrorist operative with links to al-Qaida, a counterterrorism official said Tuesday.
The operative, whose name was not provided, works for Abu Musab Zarqawi, a senior associate of Osama bin Laden, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The capture occurred this week, the official said.
Zarqawi, linked to the death of an American diplomat in Jordan last year, is one of the Bush administration’s links between al-Qaida and the regime of Saddam Hussein. He is also among the administration’s most-wanted al-Qaida figures.
Zarqawi fled Afghanistan during the U.S.-led war to oust the Taliban. He passed through Iran and then received medical treatment in Baghdad in mid-2002, U.S. officials have said.
During this time, several of his associates, affiliated with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, joined him in the city. The Egyptian Islamic Jihad is considered merged with al-Qaida.
It is unclear if the captured operative was one of those associates.
Zarqawi left Baghdad, but those associates remained, officials have said. His current whereabouts are unknown.
Both Zarqawi and the captured man are also suspected of links to Ansar al-Islam, an Islamic extremist group in northern Iraq composed of ethnic Kurds. The group’s camps were bombed heavily by U.S. forces during the war.
Officials suspect Zarqawi is linked to a plan to use poison against European targets late last year. They also say he took part in a foiled plot to bomb a tourist hotel in Amman, Jordan, during millennium celebrations.