AFP - Al-Qaeda's top leader in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, has denied in an audio message that he has been captured by the Iraqi authorities, a US group monitoring Islamist websites said on Tuesday.
"Everyone was shocked by the lie promoted by the (Iraqi authorities) in which they claim again that they have arrested me," SITE Intelligence Group quoted Baghdadi as saying in the message issued Tuesday on jihadist websites.
The authenticity of the audio message could not immediately be verified.
Iraqi authorities said in April they had captured Baghdadi, identified as one of the top leaders of the local wing of Al-Qaeda blamed for a wave of violence across the nation.
Iraqi security forces had released what they said was the first known picture of Baghdadi, showing a middle-aged man with dark skin and a close-cropped beard and moustache wearing a black shirt.
But Baghdadi said in the audio message that the images of the arrested man shown by the Iraqi authorities were for a "man that they have tortured... whom we do not know," SITE said.
The monitoring group had earlier Tuesday quoted the Islamic State of Iraq, the Al-Qaeda-linked group which Baghdadi heads, as also denying he had been captured.
It said Baghdadi was "fine" and the man, said to be Baghdadi whose image was broadcast on Iraqi channels, was unknown to them.
"All that has been shown is not more than a play," said the statement, the authenticity which could not immediately be verified.
The Al-Qaeda leader has been reported captured or killed several times in the past.
In July 2007 a US military spokesman said Baghdadi was a fictional character designed to put an Iraqi face on a terror group led by foreigners and that the voice on his audiotapes was that of an actor.
The Islamic State of Iraq is a self-styled umbrella organisation for Al-Qaeda-affiliated insurgent groups fighting US and Iraqi forces that has pledged loyalty to Osama bin Laden.
At the height of Iraq's sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007, Al-Qaeda and other Sunni militant groups killed thousands of civilians when they bombed markets and mosques crowded with Shiite civilians.