- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

2:11 p.m.

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 500-pound bombs on his isolated safe house, officials said today. His death was a long-sought victory in the war in Iraq.

The targeted airstrike yesterday evening was the culmination of 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 seven aides also killed.

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 airstrike, 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.

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

President Bush, who learned of the deadly airstrike yesterday afternoon, 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.”

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.”

Today brought two major events for Iraq’s new leadership: 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 Shiite 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 Shiites. 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 Jordanian-born terrorist, 39, 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 personally is believed to have beheaded two Americans - Nicholas Berg of West Chester, Pa., and Eugene Armstrong, formerly of Hillsdale, Mich. - prompting supporters to dub him “the slaughtering sheik.”

Zarqawi also was a master Internet propagandist, spreading the call for Islamic extremists to join the “jihad,” or holy war, in Iraq. His group posted gruesome images of beheadings, speeches by Zarqawi and recruitment videos depicting the planning and execution of its most daring attacks.

His followers also frequently targeted Shiite civilians and mosques in an attempt to spark sectarian civil war, and in his statements, Zarqawi - a Sunni Arab - often vilified Shiites as infidels.

Just days before his death, Zarqawi issued an audiotape on the Internet, railing against Shiites in Iraq and saying militias were raping women and killing Sunnis. He urged the community to fight back.

Related Zarqawi articles:

Bin Laden urges Zarqawi to attack inside America - March 01, 2005

Zarqawi beheaded Berg, CIA finds - May 14, 2004

Stifling Iraqi rebels a long-term project - November 16, 2004

FBI expands its list of wanted terrorists - February 28, 2006

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