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Iraq Transition

Three suspected al-Zarqawi associates arrested

Al-Zarqawi calls his group 'al Qaeda in Iraq'


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Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
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Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi officials on Friday announced the capture of three leading members of the insurgent group headed by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said that a "high-level Zarqawi lieutenant" identified as Anat Mohammed Hamat al-Kays was arrested on Friday.

Al-Kays, who is also known as Abu Alid, is a 31-year-old Iraqi who served as a military adviser and assisted in financing terrorist operations in Baghdad, Saleh said.

Earlier, Iraq's minister of state for national security announced that two leading members of al-Zarqawi's group previously had been arrested.

"The Iraqi security and intelligence services have reached a level where we are now able to capture the heads of the terrorist groups," said Qassim Dawood.

Dawood said one of the men was the head of the group's Baghdad operations, having allegedly met with al-Zarqawi more than 40 times in three months. "He was also involved in financial support and other logistic operations," Dawood said.

The other man was also among al-Zarqawi's close contacts, the official said.

The two were held in Baghdad, but no further information was released.

Al-Zarqawi heads an insurgent group suspected of car bombings and beheadings throughout Iraq.

In October, al-Zarqawi changed his group's name to al Qaeda in Iraq from Unification and Jihad.

The United States has placed $25 million bounties on al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden, whose recent taped messages have endorsed al-Zarqawi's acts.

The associates' arrests came on January 17 and Thursday, Dawood said, adding that he didn't want to announce them until campaigning for Sunday's elections had ended to avoid "misleading conclusions."

An audiotape message attributed to al-Zarqawi called the vote for Iraq's National Assembly and provincial councils a "big American lie." (Full story)

Intelligence information led to the arrests, Dawood said.

"I'm sure that we will be able to gain important information [from them]," he said.

Dawood also said the security forces had found weapons caches.


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