Iraq's Al Qaeda Leader Killed in Air Raid

ByABC News
June 8, 2006, 5:13 AM

June 8, 2006 — -- 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 Wednesday, north of Baghdad.

U.S. Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, confirmed that the operation which ended in al-Zarqawi's death was the result of "tips and intelligence from Iraqi senior leaders from his network."

A senior U.S. military official said on Wednesday afternoon U.S. forces tracked al-Zarqawi's spiritual adviser for two hours as he headed to a meeting with al-Zarqawi.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Gary North says the intelligence report was forwarded on to two F-16C pilots who were told to strike a building in which there was "a high target of interest."

At 6:15 p.m. Iraq time, one of the jets dropped two 500-pound bombs -- one laser-guided, the other GPS-guided -- on al-Zarqawi's safe house. The bombing came at the conclusion of a three-day operation.

FBI Assistant Director John Miller says the FBI played an important role in the operation that led to al-Zarqawi's death.

"FBI personnel were on the ground when this assault was going on. Zarqawi's body was removed from the scene to a secure location," he said.

Miller says al-Zarqawi's fingerprints were confirmed through electronic databases, but there was never any doubt as to the terrorist leader's identity.

"It was very clear, very quickly through those efforts that we had the individual we were looking for and that the military had succeeded in this operation," Miller added.

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.

Two women were said to be involved in the attack.

After the bombing, troops from the 101st airborne and Iraqi police moved to the house and discovered al-Zarqawi, who was alive but died soon after the air strike. Al-Zarqawi was identified by fingerprints, facial features, and known scars on his body.

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.

Al-Maliki said the airstrike was the result of intelligence reports provided to Iraqi security forces by residents in the area, and U.S. forces acted on the information. Jordanian officials also provided information leading to the airstrike.

"Those who disrupt the course of life, like Zarqawi, will have a tragic end," al-Maliki said.

Al-Maliki also warned those who follow the militant's lead that "whenever there is a new Zarqawi, we will kill him."

"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.

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 InteriorMinistry Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal said Iraqi security forces caught al-Zarqawi near the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah but thenreleased him because they didn't realize who he was.