Iraqi forces have killed a senior leader of a group affiliated to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and arrested 19 others people, including foreign fighters, in a firefight just outside the northern city of Mosul, a government statement has said.
The interior ministry said on Saturday that Majeed Hassan Ali, also known as Abu Ayman, the "governor" of Mosul for the Islamic Emirate of Iraq, was killed after police acted on intelligence to launch an operation on a hideout in the village of Rufaila.
It said that Ali was killed in the ensuing shooting, and that 19 others, including two Palestinian fighters, were arrested.
The ministry said security forces seized improvised bombs, "sticky bombs" normally affixed to vehicles, plastic explosives and other arms and ammunition from the hideout.
The Islamic State of Iraq is regaded by analysts and officials to be much weaker today than it was at the height of sectarian bloodshed in the country in 2006 and 2007.
However, it remains capable of mounting high-profile attacks.
While violence is lower across Iraq from its peak, attacks remain common, particularly in Mosul. More than 200 people have been killed in violence since the December 18 withdrawal of US forces.
Briton's body returned
Meanwhile, the body of a Briton who was abducted in 2007 and killed by Shia fighters, has been handed over to UK embassy staff in Baghdad, British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.
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"It is with great sadness that I can confirm that the British Embassy in Baghdad received a body today that has been identified as Alan McMenemy, who was kidnapped in Baghdad in May 2007, along with four other men," Cameron said in a statement.
McMenemy was one of four British citizens working as bodyguards for Peter Moore, a British computer consultant, when all five were kidnapped by about 40 gunmen belonging to the Asaib Ahel al-Haq group.
Moore was released unharmed in December 2009, and the bodies of the other bodyguards - Alec MacLachlan, 30, Jason Swindlehurst, 38, and Jason Creswell, 39 - were handed over to British officials earlier in 2009.
"My thoughts are with Alan's family and friends at this time," Cameron said in his statement.
"They have waited so long for his return and I hope that this will allow them to find some peace after an ordeal that no family should ever have to suffer."
In a statement released by the foreign office, Roseleen McMenemy, the widow of the bodyguard, said: "Our families have suffered terrible uncertainty and distress over the past four years and eight months.
"We have worried about Alan every single minute of each waking day."
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies