WASHINGTON — U.S. forces in Iraq are holding a senior operative of terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi who has joint American and Jordanian citizenship, Defense Department officials said Thursday.
The man is the first American known to be captured fighting for the insurgency in Iraq, said Matthew Waxman, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for detainee affairs. Officials are considering how to proceed with his case. They declined to provide his hometown or to otherwise identify him.
The suspect was captured in a raid by U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq late last year, Waxman said, and "weapons and bomb-making materials were in his residence at the time."
Waxman described the man as an associate of Zarqawi and an emissary to insurgent groups in several cities in Iraq. Zarqawi, who has declared his allegiance to the Al Qaeda terrorist network, is the most wanted man in Iraq and is blamed for numerous bombings since the U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein from power two years ago.
Defense officials also believe that the American helped coordinate the movement of insurgents and money into Iraq, Waxman said.
After his capture, a panel of three U.S. officers determined that he was an enemy combatant and not entitled to prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Convention, Waxman said. Human rights groups have criticized the enemy combatant classification as vague and providing fewer legal protections than prisoner-of-war status.
The suspect is being held as a security threat but has been visited by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The man was born in Jordan and moved to the United States, where he became a naturalized citizen, said a U.S. official, who discussed the case only on the condition of anonymity.
The detainee lived in several places in the United States over about 20 years, but officials declined to say when he left or when he went to Iraq.
The capture represents a thorny legal issue for the military. It is unclear whether the suspect will be turned over to the Justice Department for investigation or to Iraq's new legal system, which has handled the prosecution of other foreign fighters in Iraq.