Saddam Hussein is captured by US forces

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American forces captured a bearded Saddam Hussein hiding in a hole in a farmhouse cellar in northern Iraq, the US military announced this afternoon.

The arrest was carried out without a shot fired and Saddam did not resist.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we got him," US administrator om Iraq Paul Bremer told a news conference, "the tyrant is a prisoner."

Mr Bremer said that Saddam was captured last night at 8.30pm (1730 GMT) hiding in the cellar in Adwar, 10 miles 16 kilometers from Tikrit, ending one of the most intense manhunts in history.

In Baghdad, radio stations played celebratory music, residents fired small arms in the air in celebration and others drove through the streets, shouting, "They got Saddam! They got Saddam!"

At the news conference announcing his capture, US forces presented a video showing a bearded Saddam being examined by a doctor holding his mouth open with a tongue depressor, apparently to get a DNA sample.

Then a video was shown of Saddam after he was shaved. Iraqi journalists in the audience stood, pointed and shouted "Death to Saddam!" and "Down with Saddam!"

Saddam is being held at an undisclosed location and American authorities were said not to have decided whether to hand him over to the Iraqis for trial.

However, Ahmad Chalabi, a member of Iraq's Governing Council, speaking on Al-Iraqiya, a Pentagon-funded TV station, said the former dictator would stand trial

"Saddam will stand a public trial so that the Iraqi people will know his crimes," said Mr Chalabi, who is a leading member of the US-appointed council who has close links to the US administration of President George Bush.

Tony Blair said in a statement: "This is very good news for the people of Iraq. It removes the shadow that has been hanging over them for too long of the nightmare of a return to the Saddam regime."

Forces from the 4th Infantry Division with Special Forces captured Saddam, the US military said. There were no shots fired or injuries in the raid, called "Operation Red Dawn," said Lieutenant General Richardo Sanchez.

Trapped in the cellar, Saddam was in a six-to-eight-foot-deep "spider hole" that had been camouflaged with bricks and dirt. The soldiers saw the hole, investigated and found him inside, Sanchez said.

The video showed an air vent and fan inside the hole to allow Saddam to remain hidden for an extended period.

"I'm very happy for the Iraqi people. Life is going to be safer now," said 35-year-old Yehya Hassan, a resident of Baghdad. "Now we can start a new beginning."

Earlier in the day, rumours of the capture sent people streaming into the streets of Kirkuk, a northern Iraqi city, firing guns in the air in celebration.

"We are celebrating like it's a wedding," said Kirkuk resident Mustapha Sheriff. "We are finally rid of that criminal."

"This is the joy of a lifetime," said Ali Al-Bashiri, another resident. "I am speaking on behalf of all the people that suffered under his rule."