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Iraqi Former Pilot Accused In 2003 UN Bombing

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- A former Iraqi airline pilot who has been in custody for seven months was accused today by Iraqi authorities of orchestrating the 2003 bombing of the UN Baghdad headquarters in which 22 people were killed.

Then-UN envoy to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian, was among those who died when a truck bomb exploded at the Canal Hotel, which served as the UN operations center before and just after the 2003 U.S. invasion.

The suspect, identified as Ali Hussein al-Azzawi or Abu Imad, has been charged with supervising several other attacks also, including an attack on an Iraqi army troop carrier in 2006 and bombings in eastern Baghdad in 2007 and 2008, Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi said.

"He is the direct perpetrator of many terrorist attacks and on top of them, supervised the planning of the bomb attack on the UN headquarters in August 2003...and he is responsible for linking Qaeda terrorist networks in Europe and Iraq," Moussawi said at a news conference.

Azzawi was arrested in Baghdad on June 26, Moussawi said. He did not say where the suspect had been for the last seven months or why the charges were announced only now.

Moussawi showed videotapes of what he described as the confessions of three men, two Iraqis and a Saudi, who said they had received orders from Azzawi.

The Saudi, who identified himself as Mohammad Abdullah Hassan, said Azzawi acted as a financial manager for Al-Qaeda in addition to planning attacks.

"He used to distribute money to the soldiers and heads of the districts [in Diyala Province] when he came to meet us," said Hassan, who appeared in the video with several days' growth of beard and wearing a dark blue prison uniform.

Moussawi said Azzawi also negotiated ransoms with the relatives of foreigners kidnapped in Iraq, but did not give further details.

Moussawi said Azzawi had been a pilot for Iraqi Airways, the state-owned airline. He played a short video clip of Azzawi in which the suspect only gave his name, birth date and address.