US troops capture 'lifelong' Saddam bodyguard

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The Independent Online

A bodyguard who rarely left Saddam Hussein's side and was regularly photographed with the former leader was captured in a pre-dawn raid along with a security chief and a militia leader, US forces said today.

They captured Adnan Abdullah Abid al-Musslit in Tikrit, the former dictator's hometown, where earlier troops found enough anti-tank mines and gunpowder for a month of attacks on American forces.

As "one of Saddam's lifelong bodyguards," al-Musslit was believed to have detailed knowledge of the former president's hiding places, said Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russell, who led the raid.

He said documents taken from the home and information obtained from the men would be useful in the hunt for Saddam.

Among others also captured today were Ziana, the head of security in Tikrit, and Rafa Idham Ibrahim al-Hassan, a leader of the Saddam Fedayeen militia, said Col Russell.

Soldiers fired two shots into a house before charging in to grab al-Musslit. He was escorted from the home minutes later, bleeding and dressed only in his underwear and a T-shirt, US military officials said.

Al-Musslit resisted inside the home and soldiers had to wrestle him down, Russell said. A medic attended to him as he sat in the back of a Humvee under close guard.

At least four others were seen being taken into custody in near simultaneous raids on other houses in the heart of Tikrit. It was not immediately clear how many men in total were taken into custody, but Russell said the three they had targeted were captured in the raids.

US soldiers dug up the freshly buried weapons outside an abandoned building that once belonged to the Fedayeen in Tikrit, Saddam's power base in which he still enjoys widespread support.

The troops uncovered 40 anti-tank mines, dozens of mortar rounds and hundreds of pounds of gunpowder.

Maj. Bryan Luke, 37, of Mobile, Ala., said the weaponry was enough for a month of guerrilla attacks and the discovery "saved a few lives out there."

"Forty mines could have caused a lot of problems for US forces here in Tikrit," he said.

North of Baghdad, guerrillas floated a bomb on a palm log down the Diala River, a Tigris tributary, and detonated it under an old bridge linking the northern cities of Baqouba and Tikrit. Baqouba, like Tikrit, is a hotbed of Saddam support in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" north and west of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

US soldiers had built a pontoon bridge farther downstream and were renovating the old bridge, but after the explosion they closed both to the public.

"We've been repairing it since the end of April, but now we've got people trying to blow it up," said Lt. Col. Bill Adamson, a 4th Infantry Division commander. "Because of this damage we've got to shut it to all the civilian traffic."

The bomb was the first known guerrilla attack on a bridge. Bridges are especially crucial in a nation born around its two major rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Saboteurs have attacked infrastructure such as electricity plants, water installations and oil pipelines in the past.

Meanwhile, the hunt for Saddam continued, with US military officials indicating they were close to catching up with him.

At least twice in the past week, American soldiers have raided houses where they believed they may have missed Saddam by a day — once in the northern city of Mosul, and once at a farmhouse near Tikrit.

The raid of three farms near Tikrit on Sunday came after the military received intelligence that Saddam's new security chief, and possibly Saddam himself, was hiding there. About 25 men were detained and released.

"We missed him by 24 hours," said Russell, who led the operation.

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