- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials yesterday said Syria had captured and handed over Saddam Hussein’s half brother, a most-wanted leader in the Sunni-based insurgency.

The action was described by Iraqi authorities as a goodwill gesture by Damascus, but it followed months of Syrian denials that fugitives from the ousted Saddam regime were hiding on their territory.

Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, who shared a mother with Saddam, was nabbed with 29 other fugitive members of the former dictator’s Ba’ath Party in Hasakah in northeastern Syria, 30 miles from the Iraqi border, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The U.S. military in Iraq had no immediate comment.

Al-Hassan’s capture was the latest in a series of arrests of important insurgent figures that the government hopes will deal a crushing blow to the violent opposition forces.

A week ago, authorities grabbed a key associate and the driver of Jordanian-born terror leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq who is thought to be the inspiration for continuing bombings, beheadings and attacks on Iraqi and American forces. Iraqi officials said they expect to capture Zarqawi soon.

Iraqis welcomed news of al-Hassan’s capture.

“I hope all the terrorists will be arrested soon and we can live in peace,” said Safiya Nasser Sood, a 54-year-old Baghdad housewife. “Those criminals deserve death for the crimes they committed against the Iraqi people.”

“I consider this day as a victory for Iraqis,” said Adnan al-Mousawi, a resident in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad. “By God’s will, Saddam will stand in court with his officials, and this will be the end of the unjust dictatorship.”

Al-Hassan was thought to be operating from the northern Syrian city of Aleppo to help organize and finance the insurgency that has killed untold thousands of Iraqis and more than 1,000 U.S. troops since the overthrow of Saddam in April 2003.

The Iraqi officials did not specify when al-Hassan was captured, only saying he was detained after the Feb. 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut.

Despite the arrest, the violence continued in Iraq, where two U.S. soldiers were killed in a roadside ambush southwest of the capital yesterday. They were the second and third American deaths over the weekend and pushed the overall U.S. toll to nearly 1,500 since the war began in March 2003.

Bomb attacks and ambushes killed nine persons near the northern city of Mosul, while five headless bodies — including that of an Iraqi woman — were discovered in and just south of Baghdad. Gunmen, meanwhile, killed two police officers in an ambush as the officers were driving to work in western Baghdad.

Iraqi intelligence officer Capt. Ahmed Ismael said al-Hassan was handed to the Iraqis yesterday.

Another Iraqi official said Syrian security forces expelled al-Hassan after he and his supporters had tried to cross the Syrian border into Lebanon and Jordan. Officials in Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s office confirmed al-Hassan’s capture but gave no other details.

Al-Hassan was No. 36 on the list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis compiled by U.S. authorities after American troops toppled Saddam in April 2003. Eleven from the deck remain at large. The half brother also was named as one of the 29 most-wanted supporters of the Iraqi insurgency. The United States had offered $1 million for his capture.

Under Saddam, al-Hassan led the dreaded General Security Directorate, which was responsible for internal security, especially cracking down on political factions that opposed the Iraqi leader. Al-Hassan was accused of the widespread torture of political opponents. He later became a presidential adviser, the last post he held in the former regime.

He was also thought to have been responsible for setting up front companies in neighboring Jordan to evade U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Internationally, al-Hassan’s name was linked to attempts to sell looted Kuwaiti treasure.

Saddam’s two other half brothers, Barzan and Watban, were captured in April 2003 and are expected to stand trial with Saddam at the Iraqi Special Tribunal.

Both appeared before the special court in Baghdad with Saddam and other captured regime members during preliminary hearings for the charges against them.

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