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Friday, June 30, 2006

Most foreign fighters in Iraq come from Egypt: US military

BAGHDAD (AFP) - The US military has said that it has several hundred foreign fighters in custody in Iraq and that most of them come from Egypt, followed by Syria, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.

"We have several hundred foreign fighters in captivity at this point of time and the greatest number come out of Egypt," spokesman Major General William Caldwell told reporters Thursday.

"The top four countries are -- the first is Egypt, followed by Syria, then Sudan and Saudi Arabia."

The US military has already claimed that the new Al-Qaeda in Iraq chief is Egyptian Abu Ayub al-Masri, saying he took over from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed in an US air strike on June 7.

The military believes Masri is the same person as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, named by an Al-Qaeda-led coalition as Zarqawi's successor.

Caldwell said the US military tries to identify the nationalities of these fighters primarily through "passport verification."

"We try hard to identify them when we capture them because at some point of time these people will be facing Iraqi civil authorities and court and when they do we want to be able to ascertain that they are here illegally and not at the request of the government of Iraq," Caldwell said.

Caldwell also said at least "57 foreign fighters were killed by Iraqi and US forces in the month of June" in a series of nation-wide operations.

And in the week ended June 28 about 587 suspected insurgents have been detained, he added.

Meanwhile, Masri remains the "number one target", Caldwell said.

"A lot of resources are committed to finding him. We are working hard to get him. There is no question that if we take him down that will just disrupt the organisation beyond a point where it will be ineffective for a long period of time.

Al-Qaeda "is very disorganised right now and very disrupted right now. The reason we were able to pick up and track some of the middle-level people is because their system is so disrupted and that has given us the opportunities to find them, track them and go get them."
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