- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

BAGHDAD — Abu Musab Zarqawi, whose bloody campaign of beheadings and suicide bombings made him the most wanted terrorist in Iraq, was killed when U.S. warplanes dropped two 500-pound bombs on his isolated safe house, officials said yesterday. His death was a long-sought victory in the war in Iraq.

The targeted air strike Wednesday evening concluded a two-week-long hunt for Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. Tips from senior militants led U.S. forces to follow Zarqawi’s spiritual adviser to the safe house, 30 miles outside Baghdad, for a meeting with the terror leader. The adviser, Sheik Abdul Rahman, was among those killed.

“Zarqawi was eliminated,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said.

President Bush, who learned of the deadly air strike Wednesday afternoon in Washington, hailed the killing as “a severe blow to al Qaeda and it is a significant victory in the war on terror.

“Americans can be enormously proud of the men and women of our armed forces, who worked tirelessly with their Iraqi counterparts to track down this brutal terrorist and put him out of business.”

But he cautioned: “We have tough days ahead of us in Iraq that will require the continuing patience of the American people.”

Around the time news reports announced Zarqawi’s death, two bombs hit a market and a police patrol in Baghdad, killing at least 19 persons and wounding more than 40. Later, a car bomb exploded in north Baghdad, killing six persons and wounding 15.

Fingerprints, tattoos and scars helped U.S. troops identify Zarqawi’s body, White House spokesman Tony Snow said. The U.S. military released a picture of Zarqawi’s face after the air strike, with his eyes closed and spots of blood behind him, an image reminiscent of photos of Saddam Hussein’s slain sons from the early days of the war.

Al Qaeda in Iraq vowed to continue its “holy war,” according to a statement posted on a Web site.

“We want to give you the joyous news of the martyrdom of the mujahed sheik Abu Musab Zarqawi. The death of our leaders is life for us. It will only increase our persistence in continuing holy war so that the word of God will be supreme.”

Shortly after news of Zarqawi’s death, parliament approved candidates for ministers in charge of Iraq’s army and police, ending a political stalemate between Shi’ite and Sunni Arab factions.

The new ministers are seen as key to Iraq’s taking control of its deteriorating security, and — with Zarqawi’s death — some Iraqi citizens expressed hope for an end to sectarian bloodshed.

“If it’s true Zarqawi was killed, that will be a big happiness for all the Iraqis,” said Thamir Abdulhussein, a college student in Baghdad. “He was behind all the killings of Sunni and Shi’ites. Iraqis should now move toward reconciliation. They should stop the violence.”

Not since the 2003 capture of Saddam in an underground bunker has the war seen the downfall of such an iconic figure.

The 39-year-old Jordanian-born terrorist was Iraq’s most wanted militant and nearly as notorious as Osama bin Laden, to whom he swore allegiance in 2004. The United States put a $25 million bounty on his head, the same as bin Laden. Mr. al-Maliki told Al Arabiya television the bounty would be honored, saying, “We will meet our promise,” without elaborating.

As the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Zarqawi oversaw a wave of kidnappings of foreigners and the killings of at least a dozen, including Arab diplomats and three Americans. He is thought to have personally beheaded two Americans — Nicholas R. Berg of West Chester, Pa., and Eugene “Jack” Armstrong of Hillsdale, Mich. — prompting supporters to dub him the “Slaughtering Sheik.”

His followers frequently targeted Shi’ite civilians and mosques in an attempt to spark sectarian civil war, and in his statements, Zarqawi — a Sunni Arab — often vilified Shi’ites as infidels. Elated at news of his killing, Iraqi police in Baghdad’s Shi’ite slum of Sadr City fired their guns in the air and chanted.

U.S.-led forces came close to capturing Zarqawi several times since his campaign began in mid-2003. Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said the latest hunt began two weeks ago with intelligence from senior leaders of Zarqawi’s network.

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said U.S. and Iraqi intelligence found Zarqawi by following his spiritual adviser, who visited Zarqawi at the safe house, prompting the air strike. He showed a videotape of an attack in which he said F-16 fighter jets dropped two 500-pound bombs on the site.

“We had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Zarqawi was in the house,” Gen. Caldwell said, adding that Iraqi and U.S. troops carried out 17 raids around Baghdad after Zarqawi’s killing.

The safe house was located in a remote area 30 miles from Baghdad in the volatile province of Diyala, just northeast of the provincial capital of Baqouba, officials said.

Baqouba has in recent weeks seen a spike in sectarian violence, including the discovery of 17 severed heads in fruit boxes. It also was near the site of a sectarian atrocity last week in which masked gunmen killed 21 Shi’ites, including a dozen students pulled from minibuses, after separating out four Sunni Arabs.

“This is a message for all those who embrace violence, killing and destruction to stop and to [retreat] before it’s too late,” the Iraqi prime minister said. “It is an open battle with all those who incite sectarianism.”

Mr. al-Maliki said tips from area residents helped lead to the air strike. A Jordanian official said the kingdom also gave the U.S. military information on tracking down Zarqawi, who claimed responsibility for the triple suicide bombing of hotels in Jordan’s capital, which killed 60 persons — mostly Sunni Muslims. The attack drew condemnation from the Arab world, including Islamic militants.

The official said some of the information came from Jordan’s sources inside Iraq and led the U.S. military to the Baqouba area.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in an interview that a serious effort to find Zarqawi had been under way since he appeared in a videotape in late April — the same week messages were broadcast by bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri. He said the location where Zarqawi appeared in the videotape had been “pinpointed,” without elaborating.

A U.S. defense intelligence official, who requested anonymity, said there is no intelligence indicating that extremists planned attacks that would be triggered by Zarqawi’s death. However, his death might bring retaliation, he said.

The official noted that a number of Zarqawi deputies have been killed in recent months, which could cause chaos among the group’s top tier.

Gen. Caldwell, the U.S. military spokesman, said an Egyptian-born man he identified as Abu al-Masri will probably take over al Qaeda in Iraq.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Zarqawi’s death “was very good news, because a blow against al Qaeda in Iraq was a blow against al Qaeda everywhere.” Afghan President Hamid Karzai called the killing “a significant step in ridding the world of the menace of terrorism.”

In Jordan, Zarqawi’s older brother said the insurgent leader was a martyr.

“We anticipated that he would be killed for a very long time,” Sayel al-Khalayleh said by phone from Zarqa, the town from which Zarqawi derived his name. The family renounced him in the wake of the Amman bombing.

ZARQAWI’S FOOTPRINTS

Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed Wednesday in a U.S. air strike at a safe house north of Baghdad. Here is a chronology of some attacks claimed by Zarqawi and his followers:

• Oct. 28, 2002: U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley is fatally shot in Amman, Jordan.

• Aug. 19, 2003: A truck bombing of the United Nations’ headquarters in Baghdad kills 23.

• Aug. 29, 2003: More than 85 are killed in a car bombing in Najaf.

• March 2, 2004: At least 181 are killed in suicide bombings and mortar attacks at Shi’ite Muslim shrines in Karbala and Baghdad.

• May 11, 2004: American businessman Nicholas R. Berg is beheaded.

• May 18, 2004: Iraqi Governing Council President Abdel-Zahraa Othman is killed by a car bomb.

• Sept. 16, 2004: British engineer Kenneth Bigley and U.S. engineers Jack Hensley and Eugene “Jack” Armstrong are kidnapped in Baghdad. By Oct. 10, all three men are confirmed beheaded.

• Feb. 28, 2005: A suicide car bomber kills 125 in Hillah.

• Nov. 9, 2005: A triple suicide bombing at hotels in Amman, Jordan, kills 60.

• Feb. 22, 2006: One of Shi’ite Islam’s holiest shrines, the Golden Mosque in Samarrah, is destroyed in a bombing, leading to more than 90 reprisal bombings on Sunni mosques.

Sources: Combined wire dispatches

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