updated 4/6/2006 4:48:10 AM ET 2006-04-06T08:48:10

Iraqi forces have captured the prime suspect in last year’s kidnapping of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, the U.S. military said Thursday.

Mohammed Hila Hammad Obeidi, also known as Abu Ayman, was arrested in southern Baghdad on March 7 but the announcement was delayed pending DNA tests to verify his identity, the U.S. command said in a statement.

Abu Ayman is believed to have led the Secret Islamic Army in Babil province south of Baghdad and is said to have close ties to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of al-Qaida in Iraq. He was also an aide to the chief of staff of intelligence during Saddam Hussein’s regime, the U.S. statement said.

The statement said Abu Ayman was behind the February 2005 abduction of Sgrena, who worked for a leftist newspaper in Italy. The kidnappers gave Italy 72 hours to withdraw troops from Iraq or she would be killed. However, she was freed a month later.

The U.S. statement also said Abu Ayman was responsible for assassination attempts against Iraqi officials and for other kidnappings but offered no further details.

Abu Ayman’s alleged lieutenant, Syrian-born Abu Qatada, was captured by troops Dec. 27 and has “provided valuable information on the Abu Ayman terror network,” the statement said.

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