Abu Ayyub al-Masri, leader of the Iraqi branch of the terrorist network Al-Qaeda, has been arrested in the northern city of Mosul, the Iraqi defence ministry said according to broadcaster al-Jazeera.
A native Egyptian also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, he was arrested in what was described as a joint Iraqi-US operation. But media reports late Thursday said the US military had not yet confirmed the arrest.
Al-Masri took over the Iraqi affiliate of Al-Qaeda after the local founder, Jordanian fugitive Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed by US forces in a 2006 air raid. A US bounty of $5 million had been on the head of al-Masri since he assumed the Iraqi Al-Qaeda leadership.
Last month, al-Masri issued a recording through Islamist militant websites calling for Al-Qaeda fighters to launch an offensive in the following weeks against US forces in Iraq.
He also called for stepped up attacks on the so-called Awakening Councils, US-backed Sunni Muslim tribal forces recruited during the last week to fight largely Al-Qaeda in Iraq insurgents.