Former Iraqi spy chief arrested; Rumsfeld: Captives provide ''useful'' information
Former Iraqi spy chief Farouk Hijazi was detained by U.S. forces near Iraq's border with Syria on Thursday, said a U.S. official on Friday. "He (Hijazi) is in custody and was picked up in Iraq near the Syrian border yesterday Iraqi time. I have no more details about the circumstances (of his arrest)," the U.S. official told Reuters.
Hijazi, accused of plotting to assassinate former President George Bush in the 1990s, was detained near Iraq's border with Syria, said a U.S. official on Friday.
Last week, Washington said it believed Hijazi was in Syria amid mounting accusations that Damascus was harboring members of Saddam Hussein's government who had fled America's invasion of Iraq.
Hijazi was director of external operations for the Iraqi intelligence agency in the mid-1990s, when the agency allegedly launched a failed attempt to assassinate the first President George Bush during a visit to Kuwait.
Hijazi subsequently served as Iraq's ambassador to Tunisia and Turkey.
Hijazi is among several high-level Iraqis taken into U.S. custody over recent days.
U.S. officials are interrogating Iraqi officials who have been taken into custody and some of them are "providing information that is useful," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday.
Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing that between 7,000 and 7,500 Iraqis have been taken prisoner, but that lower-level ones like foot soldiers are being released.
Among those held, Rumsfeld said, were "12 of the 55 most-wanted officials ... as well as a number of others who were not on that list."
He said they are being held in various locations. The Pentagon has no plans to send any of them to its prison facilities at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where captured Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are being held from the war in Afghanistan, he said.
Rumsfeld expressed satisfaction that Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister under Saddam Hussein, was among those in custody. Aziz surrendered on Thursday.
Aziz "clearly is a very senior person and was in that regime and we intend to discuss with him whatever he's willing to discuss with us," Rumsfeld said.
Asked whether fugitive Iraqi leaders might be hiding together, Rumsfeld said that to suggest they were all in one place "would be clearly not the case."
"I would guess that some got over the border and are finding haven in some place. Others we found and still others are in the country in various places trying to be inconspicuous and we'll eventually find them," he said.
Rumsfeld said that along with the Iraqis taken into custody were some Syrians who were "in there doing things they shouldn't have been doing."
Overall, "We're keeping the hard cases separate for the most part. We're systematically going through less-hard cases and releasing people." He said about 1,000 had been released so far.
"We obviously don't want to hold any more people than we have to," Rumsfeld said.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said earlier Friday that Aziz's capture "portends for a stronger future for the people of Iraq, a future of freedom as vestiges of the Baath regime are captured or turn themselves in and we welcome this capture."
The capture of top Iraqi figures could prompt other wanted officials to turn themselves in, Pentagon officials said. Information from the others already in custody also could lead to more on the wanted list, the officials said.
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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