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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 March, 2005, 12:33 GMT
Gunmen kill senior Iraqi official
Iraq street scene with American tank
Insecurity continues to dog Iraq's beleaguered population
A senior official with the interior ministry in Iraq has been gunned down in Baghdad, the ministry has said.

The official was named as Maj Gen Ghazi Mohammed, deputy director for passports in the immigration department.

Al-Qaeda's wing in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on the internet.

The Zarqawi group has killed dozens of hostages and claimed some of the bloodiest suicide attacks in Iraq.

Hundreds of officials and security force members have also been killed in numerous attacks motivated by opposition to the US-backed government and the military occupation of the country.

Reports say Mr Mohammed was due to leave shortly for Iran to vet Iraqi refugees expelled from under Saddam Hussein's old regime who now wished to return home.

'Zarqawi photo'

On Monday, the Iraqi transitional government issued what it said were new photographs showing Mr Zarqawi with a short haircut and beard.

Photograph purported to show Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
The photos appeared to have been doctored at some stage
The government did not say how the photographs were obtained or why the pictures appeared to have been doctored.

Officials say they are near to capturing the alleged militant mastermind, but his group has replied in an internet statement that he is safe and in good health.

In a separate development, kidnappers in Iraq released a Jordanian businessman Ibrahim Maharmeh after a $100,000 ransom was paid, family members said.

More than 150 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since last year, about 40 of whom have been executed by their captors and another 30 of whom remain unaccounted for.

On Monday, insurgents killed at least 25 people, including security force members, in attacks in the capital and towns north of Baghdad.

Unconfirmed reports from officials speak of further attacks and armed clashes on Tuesday in the towns of Ramadi and Salman Pak causing a number of casualties.

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