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Al Qaeda in Iraq leader not captured - U.S.

  • Story Highlights
  • U.S. military official says al Qaeda in Iraq leader has not been captured
  • Iraqi officials claimed Abu Ayyub al-Masri was captured in Iraq city of Mosul
  • Iraqi officials have reported his death three times and his capture twice
  • Al-Masri took the reins of the Iraqi al Qaeda offshoot in June 2006
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, has not been captured, a senior U.S. military official told CNN on Friday.

Iraqi authorities said Thursday that al-Masri had been captured in Mosul.

U.S. military officials were surprised about the report of Abu Ayyub al-Masri's capture -- first reported by Iraqi media and picked up by The Associated Press. And intelligence officials said they were skeptical, even though Iraqi officials said al-Masri was already in U.S. military custody.

Al-Masri ("the Egyptian"), also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, took the reins of the Iraqi al Qaeda offshoot in June 2006 after a U.S. missile strike killed his predecessor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Since then, Iraqi officials have reported his death three times, his capture twice and a mortal wounding once. Watch more about al-Masri's role with al Qaeda in Iraq Video

Nineveh Gov. Duraid Kashmoula and Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammed al-Askari Thursday told CNN of al-Masri's capture during a late-night operation in Mosul, saying he had since been handed over to the U.S. military.

In October 2006, four months after he assumed al-Zarqawi's role as the group's leader, al-Masri was reported killed in a U.S. raid in Haditha. Seven months after that, he was supposedly killed in a clash between rival Sunni groups near Taji.

Those reports did not pan out, nor did a report in February 2007 that he had been killed, then captured, then mortally wounded on the road between Samarra and Fallujah -- all in two days.

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Iraqi officials have also misreported the deaths or capture of other high-ranking insurgents, Baathists or others, including al-Zarqawi before he was killed and Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, the highest ranking former member of Saddam Hussein's regime still at large.

Al-Duri, who was the King of Clubs (No. 6) on the U.S. military's deck of most wanted regime officials, was most recently reported captured two weeks ago by multiple Iraqi officials. He had previously been reported killed in 2005 and captured the year before.

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