'Iraq's al-Qaeda chief dead'


Summary

The US military could not confirm the claim, and Iraqi officials admitted they had not yet laid hands on the allegedly slain militant's corpse.

A pro-American alliance of Sunni tribes claimed responsibility for the alleged slaying, but al-Qaeda in Iraq dismissed the reported death.

"There is intelligence information. Some information, you know, needs confirmation, but this information is very strong," said interior ministry operations director Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf.

"Our forces had nothing to do with it," he told state television. "It was an ambush by his rivals which culminated in clashes. Interior ministry sources saw the killing of this criminal."

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh confirmed that the report was being examined, but added a note of caution: "This intelligence still has to be checked by giving the body to people who can identify him.

"When we get the body, its DNA must be verified, but the body is still not in the hands of Iraqi forces. There are now attempts by the Iraqi forces to get the body," he said, also speaking on state television.

Al-Qaeda itself, in an Internet message, denied the claim.

"The Islamic State of Iraq reassures the ummah (Islamic nation) on the safety of Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, God keep him, and he is still fighting God's enemies," the group said, using its name for its leader.

An alliance of western Iraqi tribes that works in cooperation with US forces claimed responsibility for the alleged ambush.

"The clashes started between the Dulaim tribe, which is part of the Salvation Council, and Al-Qaeda at 9:00 am (0500 GMT) and continued until 11:00," Sheikh Hamid al-Hayis, head of the Anbar Salvation Council, told news agency AFP.

"They killed him along with two Saudi leaders and three Iraqis," he said.

The Salvation Council is the armed wing of a Sunni tribal movement called the Anbar Awakening, made up of groups that once opposed the US occupation of Iraq but have now switched sides to fight Al-Qaeda.

US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Garver could not confirm the report and noted that several previous reports of Masri's death had proved unfounded. "I hope it is true," he told AFP.

And the US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, warned that even if the report proves accurate it would not mean the insurgency has been defeated.

"It is a now a very decentralised terrorist effort, so while removing its current head would be a good and positive thing, I think we have to expect that we will need to continue dealing with further Al-Qaeda attacks," he said.

US officials say Masri is an Egyptian car bomb specialist who heads al-Qaeda's Iraq subsidiary. The US State Department has put a one million dollar bounty on his head.

Both Khalaf and Hayis said Masri had been killed in the Nibae area on the Tigris river near Taji, a town north of the capital that has seen fierce combat between US forces and al-Qaeda.

On Tuesday, US forces killed five insurgents near Taji while "targeting senior leaders within the Al-Qaeda in Iraq network", according to a statement.

Masri's name — which means Egyptian — came to world attention in June 2006 when the US military claimed he had taken over control of al-Qaeda in Iraq after his predecessor Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a US air strike.

The military describes him as Iraq's premier builder of car bombs.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is part of a coalition of Sunni insurgent factions, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq, which is run by Iraqi militant Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, described in militant literature as more powerful than Masri.

Zarqawi's death last year was hailed as a major victory by the United States and the Iraqi government, but al-Qaeda quickly reorganised and its brutal campaign of bombings has continued unabated.


The US military could not confirm the claim, and Iraqi officials admitted they had not yet laid hands on the allegedly slain militant's corpse.

A pro-American alliance of Sunni tribes claimed responsibility for the alleged slaying, but al-Qaeda in Iraq dismissed the reported death.

"There is intelligence information. Some information, you know, needs confirmation, but this information is very strong," said interior ministry operations director Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf.

"Our forces had nothing to do with it," he told state television. "It was an ambush by his rivals which culminated in clashes. Interior ministry sources saw the killing of this criminal."

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh confirmed that the report was being examined, but added a note of caution: "This intelligence still has to be checked by giving the body to people who can identify him.

"When we get the body, its DNA must be verified, but the body is still not in the hands of Iraqi forces. There are now attempts by the Iraqi forces to get the body," he said, also speaking on state television.

Al-Qaeda itself, in an Internet message, denied the claim.

"The Islamic State of Iraq reassures the ummah (Islamic nation) on the safety of Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, God keep him, and he is still fighting God's enemies," the group said, using its name for its leader.

An alliance of western Iraqi tribes that works in cooperation with US forces claimed responsibility for the alleged ambush.

"The clashes started between the Dulaim tribe, which is part of the Salvation Council, and Al-Qaeda at 9:00 am (0500 GMT) and continued until 11:00," Sheikh Hamid al-Hayis, head of the Anbar Salvation Council, told news agency AFP.

"They killed him along with two Saudi leaders and three Iraqis," he said.

The Salvation Council is the armed wing of a Sunni tribal movement called the Anbar Awakening, made up of groups that once opposed the US occupation of Iraq but have now switched sides to fight Al-Qaeda.

US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Garver could not confirm the report and noted that several previous reports of Masri's death had proved unfounded. "I hope it is true," he told AFP.

And the US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, warned that even if the report proves accurate it would not mean the insurgency has been defeated.

"It is a now a very decentralised terrorist effort, so while removing its current head would be a good and positive thing, I think we have to expect that we will need to continue dealing with further Al-Qaeda attacks," he said.

US officials say Masri is an Egyptian car bomb specialist who heads al-Qaeda's Iraq subsidiary. The US State Department has put a one million dollar bounty on his head.

Both Khalaf and Hayis said Masri had been killed in the Nibae area on the Tigris river near Taji, a town north of the capital that has seen fierce combat between US forces and al-Qaeda.

On Tuesday, US forces killed five insurgents near Taji while "targeting senior leaders within the Al-Qaeda in Iraq network", according to a statement.

Masri's name — which means Egyptian — came to world attention in June 2006 when the US military claimed he had taken over control of al-Qaeda in Iraq after his predecessor Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a US air strike.

The military describes him as Iraq's premier builder of car bombs.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is part of a coalition of Sunni insurgent factions, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq, which is run by Iraqi militant Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, described in militant literature as more powerful than Masri.

Zarqawi's death last year was hailed as a major victory by the United States and the Iraqi government, but al-Qaeda quickly reorganised and its brutal campaign of bombings has continued unabated.