BAGHDAD, Sept. 3 — U.S. and Iraqi forces have captured a top al-Qaeda leader who ordered the bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra that triggered a wave of ferocious sectarian killings, Iraqi officials said Sunday.
The arrest of Hamed Jumaa Faris Juri al-Saeidi, described by Iraqi officials as the No. 2 leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, was the latest in a series of blows to the Sunni Arab insurgent group, believed responsible for numerous suicide attacks on civilians and other deadly violence. The group’s former leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed by U.S. forces in June and replaced by Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
“The al-Qaeda organization in Iraq has been seriously weakened and is now suffering from a leadership vacuum,” Iraq’s national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said at a news conference. Twenty senior al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters have been captured or killed based on information from Saeidi since his arrest within the past few weeks, Iraqi officials said….