U.S. military captured a man in the basement of a building in Tikrit during raids seeking Saddam Hussein, and initial efforts to verify his identity indicate he is the deposed Iraqi dictator, U.S. officials said Sunday.
“It certainly looks good,” one senior U.S. official in Washington said, cautioning more scientific testing, possibly DNA, was being done early Sunday morning to try to confirm the identity.
Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the capture, his spokesman said Sunday, adding that it “removes the shadow” of his possible return from Iraq.
The senior U.S. official said the captured man’s appearance did not immediately look like Saddam, but additional efforts to ascertain his identity indicated he was the former leader.
The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Tikrit is Saddam’s hometown.
In Baghdad, the U.S.-led occupation notified reporters that a “very important” announcement will be made at a news conference scheduled for 7 a.m. EST but did not give details.
Earlier, a member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council said Saddam had been captured alive in Tikrit.
Council member Dara Noor al-Din told The Associated Press that the council was informed of the former dictator’s capture in a telephone call from L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq.
“Bremer has confirmed to the Governing Council that Saddam was captured in Tikrit,” Noor al-Din said. “He spoke on the phone to several members, including Ahmad Chalabi.”
Chalabi is a leading member of the council who has close links to the Bush administration.
A council spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Bremer had relayed news of Saddam’s capture to the council. A council delegation planned to visit Saddam in captivity later Sunday, the spokesman said.
Another Governing Council member, Jalal Talabani, was earlier quoted by Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, as saying Saddam had been captured in Tikrit.
Talabani told IRNA that Saddam’s detention will bring stability to Iraq.
“With the arrest of Saddam, the source financing terrorists has been destroyed and terrorist attacks will come to an end. Now we can establish a durable stability and security in Iraq,” Talabani was quoted as saying.
In Baghdad, residents fired small arms in the air in celebration, and gunfire echoed in neighborhoods across the city. Earlier in the day, rumors 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.”