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Saddam's half-brother caught

Watban Ibrahim, one of 55 people wanted by America, was nabbed near Syrian border by non-US elements and turned over to the US.

world Updated: Apr 14, 2003 12:55 IST

Saddam Hussein's half brother, one of 55 people on a US most-wanted list, has been captured in Iraq near the Syrian border and is in US custody, officials said on Sunday.

Watban Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti was captured in the last few days by non-American elements and turned over to the US military, the US officials told Reuters.

Watban is the five of spades in a deck of playing cards depicting the Iraqi leadership on a US most-wanted list of 55 people issued on Friday.

Watban, Saddam's half brother from his mother's second marriage, was a presidential adviser.

But US officials said he was not close to the Iraqi leader, whose government has now collapsed, because Saddam harbored suspicions about Watban's loyalty.

"He and Saddam were estranged, they were not close," one official said. "Saddam was very suspicious of him, thought he was disloyal and kept him on a very tight leash."

Information Watban could provide to the United States might include insights about the family, their residences and where those who survived the war might flee, US officials said.

War commander Gen Tommy Franks told CNN on Sunday that US-led forces had DNA genetic material that could be used to identify Saddam and check whether attempts to kill him had succeeded.

There was speculation that Watban may be the source of the DNA, although that was not confirmed. "That would be like a walking supply of DNA," another official said.

One of Saddam's three younger half brothers, Watban was made interior minister in 1991 and hailed by state media as the man who would stop soaring crime blamed on UN economic sanctions after the Gulf War. At the time, the post was the second most powerful in the cabinet after defence minister.

But he was dismissed in 1995 following repeated attacks on the police in the newspaper Babel, which was published by Uday -- Saddam's influential eldest son.

Later that year, Watban was injured in a mysterious shooting at a party outside Baghdad, which fuelled rumours of family feuding amid reports he was shot in the leg by Uday.

While Watban's capture was considered significant, US officials saw the recent surrenders of top scientists as likely to provide the most sought-after information about Iraq's suspected biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programmes.

On Saturday, Saddam's top scientific adviser, Amer Hammoudi al-Saadi, surrendered to US troops and US officials hope he will unlock secrets about Iraq's weapons. Baghdad consistently denied it had such weapons.

The United States launched a war on Iraq saying that Saddam's government posed a threat due to suspected banned weapons programmes. US troops have not yet uncovered any confirmed sites of such weapons.

US officials also said on Sunday that a top Iraqi nuclear scientist, Ja'far al-Ja'far, had surrendered to US authorities outside Iraq.

It could not immediately be determined in which country he had surrendered. But officials said it was not Syria, where the United States suspects some Iraqi leaders may have fled.

"He certainly would be in a position to know about the state of their nuclear development programme," a US official said, adding that Ja'far could know where any nuclear materials were hidden and key players involved with the nuclear programme.

The fate of Saddam and his sons Uday and Qusay remained a mystery after two separate US bombings of sites where they were believed to have been.

"He's either dead or he's running a lot," Franks told CNN, referring to Saddam. "He'll simply be alive until I can confirm he's dead."