The man responsible for ferrying messages between Osama bin Laden and Iraqi insurgents is in U.S. custody and is providing “significant insights” into the workings of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the U.S. military said Wednesday.
Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, the top American military spokesman in Iraq, said the July 4 capture of Khalid al-Mashhadani has yielded evidence of the relationship between bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and the group known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. President Bush has long said that al-Qaeda and the Iraqi group that shares its name are one and the same, an assertion that U.S. intelligence officials say is an oversimplification.
What we’ve learned from not just the capture of Mashhadani, but from other al-Qaeda operatives, is that there is a flow of strategic direction, of prioritization, of messaging and other guidance that comes from al-Qaeda senior leadership to the al-Qaeda in Iraq leadership,” Bergner said.
Officials in Washington said the announcement of Mashhadani’s capture, two weeks after it occurred, was unrelated to White House efforts this week to emphasize tight links between al-Qaeda in Iraq and the organization headed by bin Laden.
In the wake of recent U.S. intelligence assessments depicting a resurgent bin Laden and a worsening of the global terrorist threat, war critics have charged that the administration’s focus on Iraq over the past four years has allowed al-Qaeda to grow and endanger U.S. security.
“Keep in mind that it takes some time to identify precisely who an individual is, and that there are times when you don’t want others to know that someone is in custody,” one U.S. intelligence official said of the timing.