|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 2-321965 Iraq Zarqawi (L-O)
TITLE=IRAQ / ZARQAWI (L-O)
HEADLINE: Saudi Suicide Bomber Claims Zarqawi was Captured, Then Released
INTRO: A suicide bomber from Saudi Arabia, who survived a failed attempt to blow up the Jordanian mission Baghdad in December, alleges that Iraqi police may have captured, and then released, the most wanted terrorist in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, two months ago. VOA's Alisha Ryu reports from Baghdad that both U.S. and Iraqi officials could not confirm the claims made by the suicide bomber.
TEXT: On a video disk provided by Iraq's interior ministry, the badly-burned man, identified as Ahmed Abdullah al-Shaiyah, tells Iraqi interrogators about his journey from Saudi Arabia to Baghdad between late October and December to volunteer for suicide missions.
He says he crossed into Iraq from Syria, where a smuggler met him at the border and eventually transported him to the town of Ramadi, in the restive Anbar province, to receive training from insurgents. Ramadi is close to Fallujah, which in late October and early November, was still a stronghold for the Jordanian-born terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and other militant Sunni Arab groups.
Mr. Shaiyah says he was in Ramadi during the November U.S.-led offensive in Fallujah. The ensuing two-week fire fight led to a decisive U.S. and Iraqi victory over the insurgents, but Zarqawi eluded capture.
When Iraqi interrogators ask Mr. Shaiyah if he knows anything about the fate of the terrorist, the Saudi man gives a startling answer.
/// SOUND OF INTERROGATOR ASKING ABOUT ZARQAWI ///
"Do you know what has happened to Zarqawi and where he is?" an Iraqi investigator asks Mr. Shaiyah.
/// SOUND OF SHAIYAH ANSWERING ///
He answers, "I don't know, but I heard from some of my mujahadeen brothers that Iraqi police had captured Zarqawi in Fallujah." Mr. Shaiyah says he then heard that the police let the terrorist go because they had failed to recognize him.
A U.S. military official in Baghdad said he had no evidence to corroborate the allegations from the suicide bomber.
And, during a press conference Saturday, Iraq's Interior Minister, Falah al-Naqib declined to answer a reporter's question about the allegation and rumors that Zarqawi had been arrested.
/// REPORTER AND NAQIB ACTS ///
REPORTER: "Can you just clarify a bit what you were just saying or not saying about Zarqawi?"
NAQIB: "I wouldn't like to comment for the time being. Let us see."
REPORTER: "Does that mean you have him in custody?"
REPORTER: "Does that mean he is in custody?"
NAQIB: "No comments."
On an Internet Web site Monday, a militant group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed that it had carried out a suicide car bombing earlier in the day, near the office of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National Accord Party.
The bombing followed an audio tape message, allegedly made by Zarqawi a day earlier, warning that he would wage an all-out war to derail Iraqi elections next Sunday. Calling the elections "un-Islamic," the Sunni Arab terrorist denounced Iraq's Shi'ite majority for embracing the poll and urged all Sunnis to fight against Shi'ite efforts to gain power in Iraq.
Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraqi forces in Fallujah say they are searching the city for Zarqawi, after receiving reports that he may have returned to his former stronghold. The U.S. Marines say they are taking the report seriously and are on heightened alert.
The United States is offering a 25-million dollar reward for information leading to the capture of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The same amount has been offered for the capture of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who recently named Zarqawi as his chief ally in Iraq. (Signed)
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