BAGHDAD, Iraq - Eight months after the fall of his government, Saddam Hussein has been captured by coalition forces in Iraq, the United States confirmed on Sunday. The arrest was a major victory for the coalition that has been battling an insurgency for months.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we got him," L. Paul Bremer, the head of the U.S. administration in Iraq told a news conference.
Bremer described the arrest as a great day for Iraq. "The tyrant is a prisoner."
Earlier, the Iraqi Governing Council and British Prime Minister Tony Blair reported Saddam's capture.
The Governing Council said Saddam was captured in a joint operation by troops from the U.S.-led coalition and Kurdish Iraqi forces.
"He was wearing a fake beard and laboratory tests have proven his identity beyond any doubt," said the statement.
Saddam Hussein stands on a car in northern Baghdad on April 9 in the last available footage taken of the Iraqi dictator before he went underground following the fall of his capital to U.S.-led coalition forces on the same day.
U.S. officials said only that the U.S. military captured a man in the basement of a building in Tikrit during raids seeking Saddam and that initial efforts to verify his identity indicate he is the deposed Iraqi dictator.
It certainly looks good," one senior U.S. official said, cautioning more scientific testing, possibly DNA, was being done early Sunday morning to try to confirm the identity.
Separately, a U.S. official told NBC News that millions of dollars was found in possession of Saddam and his entourage when he was captured.
A U.S. official told the Associated Press that the captured man did not look like Saddam.
Trapped in a cellar, Saddam dug a hole and buried himself as U.S. soldiers moved into the house where he was hiding, an Iraqi official said Sunday.
"The American soldiers had to use shovels to dig him out," Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman for Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi, told The Associated Press.
Qanbar, basing his account on reports from members of the U.S.-led occupation authority, said Saddam had a salt-and-pepper beard when he was captured. Soldiers photographed him, shaved the beard and photographed him again before running DNA tests, he said.
"The DNA test confirmed 100 percent Saddam Hussein's identity," he said.
Qanbar said the capture took place "in a town very close to Tikrit," Saddam's hometown 100 miles north of Baghdad.
Council member Dara Noor al-Din said the body was informed of the former dictator's capture in a telephone call from Bremer. "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."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed Saddam's capture. "This is very good news for the people of Iraq. It removes the shadow that has been hanging over them for too long of the
nightmare of a return to the Saddam regime," he said in a statement released by his office.
"This fear is now removed," the statement continued. "It also gives an opportunity for Saddam to be tried in Iraqi courts for his crimes against the Iraqi people. We should try now to unite the whole of Iraq in rebuilding the country and offering it a new future."
Blair added, "I pay tribute to the work of the coalition intelligence and military forces in capturing him."
The prime minister faced substantial domestic opposition for his decision to commit British troops to the Iraq war and is sure to get a major political boost from the reported capture.
Rumors in Kirkuk
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."