Iraq's Al Qaeda Leader Killed in Air Raid

"This is a message for all those who embrace violence, killing and destruction to stop and to [retreat] before it's too late," he said. "It is an open battle with all those who incite sectarianism."

Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said the fatal hunt for al-Zarqawi began in the area two weeks ago. Khalilzad said al-Zarqawi's death was a huge victory in the worldwide war on terrorism.

"The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a huge success for Iraq and the international war on terror," he said.

Photos of al-Zarqawi and the destroyed safe house as well as video of F-16's dropping two 500-pound bombs were released today during a military briefing in Baghdad.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said that Wednesday night was the first time there had been definitive information as to al-Zarqawi's whereabouts.

He also said that U.S. and Iraqi troops carried out 17 simultaneous raids in and around Baghdad following the bombing attack where forces found a "treasure trove" of information.

Near Misses

Al-Zarqawi's death came six days after the Jordanian-born terror leader appeared in a videotape, urging Sunnis to engage in sectarian violence against Shiites in Iraq.

A secretive organization called Task Force 145, made up of some of the most elite U.S. troops, had one goal: hunting down al-Zarqawi.

U.S. forces and their allies came close to capturing al-Zarqawi several times since his campaign began in mid-2003.

The task force narrowly missed capturing him in April 2006 in a raid about 20 miles southwest of Baghdad.

His closest brush may have come in late 2004. Deputy Interior Ministry Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal said Iraqi security forces caught al-Zarqawi near the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah but then released him because they didn't realize who he was.

Elusive Despite $25 Million Bounty

Before he appeared on video unmasked, al-Zarqawi was little more than a lethal shadow. In May 2004, Islamic militants released a video showing American hostage Nicholas Berg surrounded by five masked men. The one in the center, dressed completely in black, denounced the American occupation of Iraq before pulling out a large knife and cutting off Berg's head. Intelligence officials say that man was al-Zarqawi. al-Zarqawi was the biggest bogeyman of the American occupation of Iraq.

Washington put a $25 million price on his head -- the same as al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, called him "the most capable terrorist in Iraq."

He was considered the deadliest insurgent in Iraq, credited with countless terrorist attacks in the Middle East and the deaths of as many as 500 people. He is also believed to have participated in the beheading of South Korean translator Kim Sun-Il. In addition, al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the car bomb attacks at the U.N.'s Baghdad headquarters in August 2003, in the Shiite holy city of Najaf that same month, and in Baghdad in June 2004.

Al-Zarqawi was also cited as one of the reasons for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the U.N. Security Council, alleging he was the link between al Qaeda and Iraq.

Mysterious Background

Despite the threat al-Zarqawi posed, very little was known about him. The U.S. government's "wanted" notice featured his passport photo, but listed his height and weight as "unknown."

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