- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

IRAQ

Al Qaeda-linked group denies capture

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates | An al Qaeda-linked group, the Islamic State of Iraq, has denied Iraqi government reports that its leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, has been captured.

Iraq’s Defense Ministry announced in late April that al-Baghdadi had been captured, in what would be a blow to a weakened, yet still potent, insurgency pressing a rash of major bombings.

“We in the Islamic State of Iraq would like to show that the report … is a lie and that we do not know in the first place the person whose picture was shown on the Iraqi satellite channel,” the group said on an Islamist Web site.



“We bring glad tidings to the Islamic nation that the leader of the faithful, Sheik Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, … is well.”

Some experts say they are unconvinced that al-Baghdadi exists. They say he is a fictional character invented by al Qaeda in Iraq as part of a media strategy to put an Iraqi figurehead at the top of an organization that is otherwise foreign-run.

In April, Mohammed al-Askari, a spokesman for the Iraqi Defense Ministry, told Al Iraqiya state television that he could confirm al-Baghdadi’s identity and that Iraqi security forces had been secretly following him. He said the arrest was carried out without U.S. military assistance.

IRAN

Freed journalist thanks backers

TEHRAN | A joyful Roxana Saberi on Tuesday thanked those who helped win her release after four months in a Tehran prison. Her attorney revealed that the American journalist was convicted of spying for the U.S. in part because she had a copy of a confidential Iranian report on the U.S. war in Iraq.

Miss Saberi, who holds American and Iranian citizenship, had copied the report “out of curiosity” while she worked as a freelance translator for a powerful body connected to Iran’s ruling clerics, said the attorney, Saleh Nikbakht.

The report turned into a key part of the prosecution’s case against her during her secret, closed-door trial in mid-April before an Iranian security court, Mr. Nikbakht said. Prosecutors also cited a trip to Israel that Miss Saberi made in 2006, he said. Iran bars its citizens from visiting Israel, its top regional nemesis.

Speaking to reporters in Tehran for the first time since her release Monday, a smiling Miss Saberi said she did not have any specific plans but wanted to spend time with her family.

ISRAEL

Soldiers questioned on Gaza looting

JERUSALEM | Israeli military police arrested two soldiers as part of an investigation of purported looting during Israel’s invasion of Gaza in January, the military said Tuesday.

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported Tuesday that the two soldiers are suspected of stealing a credit card from a Palestinian family whose home they entered during the fighting and running up bill of 1,600 shekels ($400). The family reported the credit card stolen in January. Military investigators found security camera footage of the two soldiers near a cash machine on a day when the card was used there, the paper reported.

The military said it is investigating complaints from human rights groups and lawyers about behavior of Israeli forces during the operation, which was aimed at stopping daily rocket fire at Israel by Palestinian militants. At least 1,100 Palestinians were killed during the three-week offensive, many of them civilians.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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