updated 3/31/2005 7:48:56 PM ET 2005-04-01T00:48:56

U.S. forces in Iraq are holding a senior operative of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who has joint American-Jordanian citizenship, defense officials said Thursday.

The man was captured in a raid by U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq late in 2004, said Matthew Waxman, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs.

“Weapons and bomb-making materials were in his residence at the time he was captured,” Waxman said.

One official told NBC News that the man's capture wasn't announced earlier to “protect information" and gather intelligence.

Waxman described the man as an associate of Zarqawi and an emissary to insurgent groups in several cities in Iraq. Zarqawi, who has declared his allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network, is the most-wanted man in Iraq and is blamed for numerous bombings since the U.S.-led invasion removed Saddam Hussein from power two years ago.

Defense officials also believe the captured American helped coordinate the movement of insurgents and money into Iraq, Waxman said.

Name not released
The officials said the man holds joint U.S.-Jordanian citizenship but declined to provide his hometown or otherwise identify him.

After his capture, a panel of three U.S. officers determined he was an enemy combatant and not entitled to prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Convention, Waxman said. Human rights groups argue the enemy combatant classification is vague and affords fewer legal protections than prisoner-of-war status.

He is still being held as a security threat but has been visited by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

He is the first American known to be captured fighting for the insurgency in Iraq, Waxman said, and officials are considering options how to proceed with his case.

Capture could pose legal problems
The man was born in Jordan and moved to the United States and became a naturalized citizen, according to a U.S. official, who discussed his case only on the condition of anonymity. He lived in several places in the country over roughly 20 years, but officials declined to say precisely when he left or when he arrived in Iraq.

His capture represents a thorny legal issue for the military. It is uncertain whether he will be turned over to the Justice Department for investigation or to Iraq’s new legal system, which has handled the prosecution of other foreign fighters who came to Iraq to fight the U.S.-led occupation and new Iraqi government.

The Pentagon announced his capture on the same day a presidential commission slammed U.S. intelligence agencies for its poor performance in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.

Two American citizens were captured fighting against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Two Taliban foot soldiers, John Walker Lindh and Yaser Esam Hamdi, held U.S. citizenship when they were captured in late 2001.

Lindh, a California native now in his early 20s, pleaded guilty in civilian court to supplying services to the Taliban government and carrying explosives for them. He received a 20-year prison sentence in 2002 and has since sought to have it reduced.

Hamdi was born in Louisiana and grew up in Saudi Arabia. He was held by the U.S. government for three years before being released to his family in Saudi Arabia in October 2004. He gave up his American citizenship as a condition of his release.

NBC News' Jim Miklaszewski contributed to this report.


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