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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 August, 2003, 23:36 GMT 00:36 UK
'Chemical Ali' captured
Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as Chemical Ali
"Chemical Ali" - number five on the US list of most wanted Iraqis
Coalition troops in Iraq have captured one of Saddam Hussein's top generals, Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali", US Central Command has confirmed.

The US military said General Majid - number five on the United States' list of the 55 most wanted Iraqis - was in custody of coalition forces but gave no further details about his capture.

General Majid had been reported killed by coalition bombing of his villa in Basra during the war in April, but troops failed to find his body.

He is a cousin of the deposed Iraqi leader and is notorious for his role in gas attacks against the Kurds in northern Iraq during the 1987 offensive.

He is also accused of playing a leading role in the bombing of the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq.

An unnamed US defence official told the French news agency AFP that the Iraqi general appeared to be "alive and well".

The White House welcomed General Majid's capture as "another important step in going after the remnants of the former regime".

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Baghdad says General Majid is one of the men the US has said it wants to put on trial for alleged war crimes.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says his capture will raise hopes that his interrogation will soon lead to the arrest of Saddam Hussein himself.

His capture follows that of the former Iraqi vice-president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, on Monday.

Northern offensive

Before the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, Arab press reports cast General Majid in the part of a family kingmaker.

It was said he played a significant role in the rivalry for succession between Saddam Hussein's sons, Qusay and Uday.

When Saddam Hussein placed the country on a war footing in March this year, he appointed his cousin to head the southern region - one of four senior commanders reporting directly to the president.

General Majid earned the nickname "Chemical Ali" when he served as governor of northern Iraq in the late 1980s.

His appointment in March 1987, marked the beginning of a sustained offensive, known as the "Anfal Campaign", by Iraqi troops against the Kurdish population.

Human rights campaigners say the Iraqi army killed tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians in gas attacks and by summary execution.

His career in the north ended with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, when he became effectively "governor" of what Baghdad called "Iraq's 19th governorate".

He later served as interior and defence minister, until being relieved of his ministerial duties in 1995.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Frank Gardner
"Ali Hassan al-Majid is one of the most important figures to be captured alive"




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