Alex Constantine - July 18, 2007
Caveat: The statements of Khalid al-Mashadani and military spokemen have not been confirmed. This Reuters story is posted only as a record of statements to place in context once more is known. - AC
"Top Qaeda figure in Iraq a myth - U.S. military"
Wed Jul 18, 2007
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A senior operative for al Qaeda in Iraq who was caught this month has told his U.S. military interrogators a prominent al Qaeda-led group is just a front and its leader fictitious, a military spokesman said on Wednesday.
Brigadier-General Kevin Bergner told a news conference that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq, did not exist. He said the information had been given by an operative called Khalid al-Mashadani who was caught on July 4. Bergner said Mashadani was believed to be the most senior Iraqi in the Sunni Islamist al Qaeda in Iraq network.
"In his words, the Islamic State of Iraq is a front organisation that masks the foreign influence and leadership within al Qaeda in Iraq in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq," Bergner said.
Bergner said Mashadani served as an intermediary between the al Qaeda in Iraq leader, Egyptian Abu Ayyab al-Masri and overall al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the Egyptian cleric Ayman al-Zawahri, who is the global network's No. 2 commander.
U.S. officials in recent weeks have been increasingly pressed to explain the link between al Qaeda in Iraq and the global network led by bin Laden, given the military's heightened focus on al Qaeda in Iraq as the biggest threat to the country. In October, the al Qaeda-led Mujahideen Shura Council said it had set up the Islamic State of Iraq, a group of Sunni militant affiliates and tribal leaders led by Baghdadi.
In April it named a 10-man "cabinet", including Masri as war minister. The Islamic State of Iraq has claimed responsibility for many high-profile attacks across the country while Baghdadi has often been quoted in statements on militant Web sites. But Bergner said Mashadani and Masri had co-founded a "virtual organisation in cyberspace called the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006 as a new Iraqi pseudonym for AQI".
"To further this myth, Masri created a fictional head of the Islamic State of Iraq known as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi," he said.
He said the information from Mashadani suggested al Qaeda in Iraq was trying to give the perception that Iraqis were part of the leadership of the organisation when they were not.
The U.S. military has always said al Qaeda in Iraq was run by foreigners.
© Reuters 2007. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.