A day after two U.S. bombs killed the top-ranking al Qaeda operative in Iraq, more information is coming to light on the final moments of the terrorist leader's life.
In an interview with "Good Morning America," Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said al-Zarqawi was in fact alive after two 500-pound bombs were dropped on the safe house north of Baghdad where he and five others were staying.
Caldwell said Iraqi police were the first people to arrive at the house and found al-Zarqawi alive. "Zarqawi did in fact survive the airstrike," Caldwell said. He added that al-Zarqawi "mumbled a little something" and "attempted to sort of turn away off the stretcher."
"We were able to see him there at that site, but he died during the time, within minutes after our arrival," Caldwell said.
Thursday night, three boxes of biological samples from the site were flown from Iraq to an FBI lab in Quantico, Va. FBI technicians will start trying to extract DNA from those samples.
Anticipating Al-Zarqawi's Successor
On Islamic militant Web sites, sympathizers of al-Zarqawi were swearing allegiance to potential successors, but it was unclear who would emerge as a clear leader in his absence.
The U.S. military has suggested that man may be Abu al-Masri, or Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who has been linked as a close associate of al-Zarqawi. The U.S. Central Command has put a $50,000 reward on al-Masri's head.
Caldwell said al-Masri was believed to have come to Iraq in 2002 after training in Afghanistan to create an al Qaeda cell in Baghdad. He was believed to be an expert at constructing roadside bombs, the leading cause of U.S. military casualties in Iraq.
How much of a group al-Masri will have to lead and how effective he would be remains to be seen, however. Al-Zarqawi had become an icon of the insurgency, but his group had only a few hundred fighters.
They have been blamed for some of the most high-profile attacks in Iraq, but officials believe there are at least 14 insurgent groups in the country, with a total of 15,000 to 20,000 fighters.
In an effort to further disrupt the terror network, U.S. forces led 17 other raids during the overnight operation that killed al-Zarqawi.
But Caldwell emphasized that the al Qaeda network represents just a small fraction of the fighters coalition troops are facing.
"Well, even if we get him [al-Masri] -- and I think there is a high probability that we could get him after the raids yesterday showed us the size and shape of the whole network -- al Qaeda in Iraq is a very small organization and al Qaeda in Iraq is a very small percentage of the overall insurgency, perhaps as much as 5 percent at the maximum," Clarke said.