Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki on Thursday announced the killing of al Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Al-Maliki said al-Zarqawi had been killed late Wednesday during an American airstrike north of Baghdad. According to him, al-Zarqawi was killed along with seven aides. His identity was confirmed by fingerprints and a look at his face.
“What happened ... is the result of collaboration from people who facilitated the operation conducted by Iraqi police and multinational forces,” Maliki told reporters.
“This is a message to those who choose the path of violence to change their direction before it is too late. I thank our forces, our police and the multinational forces for what they are doing in pursuing the terrorists.”
General George W. Casey Jr, head of US-led forces in Iraq, told the press conference that Zarqawi and one of his key lieutenants, spiritual advisor Shaikh Abdel Rahman were killed at 6:15 pm (1415 GMT) Wednesday in an air strike on an isolated safe house. “Tips and intelligence from Iraqi senior leaders from his network led forces to al-Zarqawi and some of his associates, who were conducting a meeting approximately eight kilometers (five miles) north of Baquba, when the air strike was launched.”
“Iraqi police were first on the scene after the air strike, and elements of Multinational Division North, arrived shortly thereafter.Coalition Forces were able to identify al-Zarqawi by fingerprint verification, facial recognition and known scars.”
A Jordanian official said Jordan also provided the U.S. military with information that helped in tracking al-Zarqawi down. The official, according to the AP, said some of the information came from Jordan's sources inside Iraq and led the U.S. military to the area of Baquba.
At the White House, President Bush hailed the killing as "a severe blow to al-Qaeda and it is a significant victory in the war on terror." But he cautioned: "We have tough days ahead of us in Iraq that will require the continuing patience of the American people."
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said al-Zarqawi's death "was very good news because a blow against al-Qaeda in Iraq was a blow against al-Qaida everywhere."
The Jordanian-born man became Iraq's most wanted militant. The United States had put a $25 million bounty on al-Zarqawi, the same as Osama bin Laden.
In late 2004, Iraq's Deputy Interior Ministry Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal said Iraqi security forces caught al-Zarqawi near Fallujah but then released him because they didn't realize who he was.