Iraq's Al Qaeda Leader Killed in Air Raid

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda's leader in Iraq who led a bloody insurgency of suicide bombings and kidnappings, was killed in an airstrike north of Baghdad.

President Bush welcomed the news of the killing of al-Zarqawi by military forces in Iraq.

Al-Zarqawi's death "is a severe blow to al Qaeda, and it is a significant victory in the war on terror," Bush said in a news conference at the White House.

"We have tough days ahead of us in Iraq that will require the continuing patience of the American people," he said.

'Eliminated'

Earlier today, Iraq's prime minister in Baghdad confirmed al-Zarqawi's death.

"Today, al-Zarqawi has been eliminated," Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamel al-Maliki said in Arabic amid cheers at a news conference this morning, with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and U.S. Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, at his side.

Al Qaeda in Iraq confirmed the death of the group's leader, according to an Islamist Web site posting.

Al-Zarqawi, the prime minister said, was killed along with seven others, including his spiritual adviser Sheik Al Rahman, Wednesday night, while meeting at an isolated house in the volatile province of Diyala, just east of the provincial capital of Baqouba. Diyala is 30 miles northeast of Baghdad.

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.

In May 2005, online statements by his group said Zarqawi had been wounded in fighting with Americans and was being treated in a hospital abroad - raising speculation over a successor among his lieutenants. But days later, a statement said al-Zarqawi was fine and had returned to Iraq. There was never any independent confirmation of the reports of his wounding.

U.S. forces believe they just missed capturing al-Zarqawi in a Feb. 20, 2005 raid in which troops closed in on his vehicle west of Baghdad near the Euphrates River. His driver and another associate were captured and al-Zarqawi's computer was seized along with pistols and ammunition.

U.S. troops twice launched massive invasions of Fallujah, the stronghold used by al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters and other insurgents west of Baghdad. An April 2004 offensive left the city still in insurgent hands, but the October 2004 assault wrested it from them. However, al-Zarqawi -- if he was in the city -- escaped.

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