How man jailed by a tyrant repaid him - by leading US troops to his sons and earning a $30m bounty

Only two things seemed clear yesterday. The American military confirmed that they had in their custody an Iraqi man who had tipped them off to the presence of Saddam Hussein's sons in the mansion of Nawaf al-Zaydan. And Mr Zaydan was nowhere to be seen.

The raid on Tuesday that ended with the killing of Uday and Qusay and two others wrecked the imposing villa, fronted by ornate columns. Mr Zaydan has lost his home. But it might be that he need hardly worry. A very large reward could already be his.

For now, the Americans are only saying that indeed they got a tip-off about the sons' presence in the villa from an Iraqi citizen and that the promised reward of $15m (£9.3m) a head is therefore owed to that person. Reportedly, that individual approached the US military with the information on Monday evening.

Colonel Joe Anderson said of the informant: "He is in US custody, we are protecting him." But he declined to confirm local suspicions that he was Mr Zaydan.`

But was it Mr Zaydan? The speculation yesterday was that he must indeed have been the informant. But that, in turn, raises all sorts of questions. Why would he betray two men whom, by most accounts, he had been hiding in his home for three weeks? And were they really there for so long?

Neighbours and witnesses of the US attack have offered anecdotes that seem to confirm he was host to the two brothers. For instance, Mr Zaydan, who was hardly popular in the area, has been spending unusual amounts of cash on luxury items, notably groceries. Moreover, he was paying in cash on the spot, which apparently was not his normal habit. The local grocer, Thair al-Dabba'agh, said: "For about three weeks, Nawaf would buy expensive foodstuffs and pay for them up front, which is very unusual for him, so I figured he had important guests. But only when I heard the news yesterday, I understood that he was hiding Saddam's sons. When this huge US force swooped down on Nawaf's house a lot of things made sense."

In fact, no one reported seeing any sign of the brothers and, aside from spending the money on food, Mr Zaydan and his family seemed to have been going about their lives as usual, tending to their garden and leaving for routine visits and chores.

At first, many things about the raid and the presence of the men in the villa did not make sense. Mosul is not an area heavily populated with supporters of the old regime. However, it may have been for that reason that the pair hid there, hoping it was the least obvious place for the Americans to look. "They probably came here because it's safe. People here don't have any connection with Saddam," said Muhammad Khalil, a 36-year-old businessman, as he stood outside the remains of the three-storey home.

Moreover, Mr Zaydan, a tribal leader in the region, apparently had close ties to the family. Indeed, he had boasted to neighbours in the past not only that he was close to Saddam, but that there was some blood relationship between them. Perhaps, therefore, he seemed like the last best refuge for the brothers.

The geography of the villa might have seemed appealing. It is fronted by a busy four-lane highway, making it a good location for the brothers to hide with little danger of prying eyes looking in from the outside. Moreover, it abutted another building on one side, while open land on the other sides ensured privacy.

If it is true that Mr Zaydan took them in three weeks ago, at what point did he decide to shop them to the Americans? And why? It now emerges that his ties with Saddam's family were not always as cordial as at first appeared. He and his brother, Salah, were jailed several years ago for the crime of falsely claiming kinship with the ruling clan. He was only released last October under a general amnesty declared by Saddam to bolster support for his regime.

But bad feelings may have lingered. That opens the possibility that Mr Zaydan knew all along that he would turn the brothers in and that he indeed gave them shelter in the first place with that in mind. Surrendering them to the occupying forces would have been revenge for the time spent behind bars. And, of course, such betrayal offered the promise of enormous financial gain, otherwise unthinkable in Iraq.

That he was expecting some kind of action on Tuesday seems to have emerged from other accounts from neighbours. Under one scenario, Mr Zaydan left early on Tuesday to buy breakfast for his infamous houseguests. He was arrested by the US military on his return to the house, handcuffed and led away. Immediately afterwards, US soldiers tried to enter the house, using a megaphone to order everyone inside to step out. They did not step out and the firefight ensued. Later, Mr Zaydan was spotted sitting in the back of an American military vehicle, casually smoking as his house was blown to pieces.

A man claiming to be related to the villa's owner told reporters on the scene that the speculation about him was true. He "informed US forces that Saddam's sons and a bodyguard named Abdul Samad had taken refuge in his house and he wanted to get rid of them", he insisted.

A female relative of Mr Zaydan, who asked not to be named, and another neighbour, Ahmed Habel, both said they believed Mr Zaydan tipped off the Americans. Mr Habel said that after his arrest, Mr Zaydan "seemed to be well treated by the soldiers".

Another neighbour, a retired army general Ali Jajawi, told The New York Times that Mr Zaydan and his son, Shahlan, were seen in American vehicles even before the raid on Tuesday.