- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

Master terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi mumbled a few words as he lay mortally wounded on a stretcher amid the rubble of his bombed-out meeting place, made a feeble attempt to get up and then died surrounded by U.S. Army soldiers.

The military gave this updated account yesterday of the final moments of Osama bin Laden’s anointed “Prince of al Qaeda in Iraq” after first reporting that Zarqawi died instantly from the blunt force of two 500-pound bombs.

The twin blasts at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday destroyed the house near Baqouba, Iraq, northeast of Baghdad, where the Sunni Muslim was meeting to plan more of the suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of innocent Iraqis, mostly Shi’ites, in an attempt to spark a civil war. Killed Wednesday, in addition to Zarqawi, were his spiritual leader, Sheik Abdel Rahman, who unwittingly led trackers to the safe house, and four others, including three women. The military has not identified the four.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, briefing Pentagon reporters via a teleconference from Baghdad, said there is no indication Zarqawi was shot or harmed by Iraqi police or by U.S. soldiers. Zarqawi may have escaped instant death because he was outside the building or in a concrete-protected area that did not take a direct hit.

Gen. Caldwell gave this account: “Zarqawi in fact did survive the air strike. … The first people on the scene were the Iraqi police. They had found him and put him into some kind of gurney stretcher kind of thing, and then American — coalition — forces arrived immediately thereafter on site. They immediately went to the person in the stretcher, were able to start to identify him by some distinguishing marks on his body. They had some kind of visual facial recognition. … Zarqawi attempted to sort of turn away off the stretcher. Everybody resecured him back onto the stretcher, but he died almost immediately thereafter from the wounds he had received from the air strike. … He mumbled a little something, but it was indistinguishable and it was very short.”

Troops moved Zarqawi’s body to a morgue, where his face was cleansed of blood so it could be photographed and the picture presented to the public as proof that the second-most-wanted man in the world, next to bin Laden, was dead.

“Despite the fact that this person actually had no regard for human life, we were not going to treat him in the same manner, and so they did clean his face up for the shots,” Gen. Caldwell said.

The U.S. positively identified Zarqawi through a fingerprint match. The military has shipped his DNA samples to an FBI crime laboratory in Quantico, Va., for further identification of him and the five others.

In all, the coalition conducted 56 post-attack raids in Iraq based on weeks of intelligence collection and rounded up more than two dozen suspected insurgents. The command displayed photographs of seized equipment, which included parts for assembling suicide bombs, passports, identification cards, night-vision equipment and Iraqi army uniforms that can be worn by insurgents to infiltrate bombing targets.

“There were certain personnel that we have been watching … that the coalition forces had made the decision not to take down at that time because they were giving us key indicators at different points in time as to where Zarqawi might be,” Gen. Caldwell said.

He said he had not asked commanders why they chose to bomb the house, rather than storm it with ground troops.

“I think what they did was very appropriate and proportional to the fact that Zarqawi is the No. 1 terrorist in Iraq,” he said. “He was proven to be a brutal murderer that has absolutely no consideration for civilian life. … You have to ask yourself, is it worth putting American men and women’s lives at risk to go into what was probably a heavily fortified and guarded thing, in order to grab him.”

A defense source said the air-strike decision was made to prevent a possible escape because Zarqawi had lookouts to spot approaching vehicles and helicopters.

The Washington Times reported earlier this year that Marines had a fix on Zarqawi’s location in Anbar province in western Iraq and moved toward the house. But Zarqawi, apparently tipped off, fled in a truck and jumped off into a canal, according to aerial surveillance video examined later.

Gen. Caldwell also said that one F-16, not two as first reported, executed the mission. Both were summoned, but one was undergoing aerial refueling.

In the ensuing minutes, commanders notified Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, of the impending attack. Gen. Casey telephoned Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was attending a NATO meeting in Brussels.

Zarqawi’s likely successor, Egyptian-born Abu al-Masri, met him in one of bin Laden’s terror training camps in Afghanistan in 2001 or 2002. Al-Masri arrived in Iraq in 2003 before Zarqawi and likely set up the first al Qaeda in Iraq cell.

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