Betrayed leader of al Qaeda in Iraq dies in 'safe house' rubble

Thursday, June 8, 2006; Posted: 11:29 p.m. EDT (03:29 GMT)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. forces bombed a safe house and killed al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, but several officials warned Thursday that terrorists and insurgents would not be deterred by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death.

Al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Sunni militant with a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, was believed to have the blood of thousands on his hands as leader of the group behind numerous beheadings, assassinations and bombings.

Acting on a maze of intelligence and tips, troops targeted the house and dropped two 500-pound bombs from an F-16 jet on Wednesday evening. (Watch bombing run that killed al-Zarqawi -- 2:00)

Samir al-Sumaidie, Iraq's new Ambassador to the United States, compared al-Zarqawi's life with a plague: "He wreaked havoc and he went. Good riddance."

"He headed a network of thugs and brutal killers," al-Sumaidie told CNN. Asked whether the death will end the insurgency, al-Sumaidie said, "It's not going to be overnight, but I do believe this will degrade their ability to do damage."

In Washington, President Bush congratulated U.S. troops for a "remarkable achievement." (The road to al-Zarqawi)

"Zarqawi is dead, but the difficult and necessary mission in Iraq continues," he said. "We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him."

A day after al-Zarqawi's death, at least 37 Iraqis died in Baghdad bombings Thursday, even as the Iraqi parliament ended a stalemate by finally naming key security ministers. (Full story)

Nevertheless, Bush said the killing is "a severe blow to al Qaeda, and it is a significant victory in the war on terror."

The FBI said there is no evidence that a retaliatory strike is in the works as a result of al-Zarqawi's death, but the agency advised its agents to review ongoing probes and intelligence in the hopes of detecting any possible revenge. (Watch officials raise concern over possible retaliation -- 1:24)

FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said the agency had matched the dead man's fingerprints with al-Zarqawi's prints on file and also would do a DNA analysis. Al Zarqawi's death was confirmed on Islamic Web sites.
Tips lead to airstrike

Tips and intelligence, authorities said, helped pinpoint al-Zarqawi's whereabouts.

Some of that information may have come from a senior al Qaeda in Iraq figure arrested in Jordan on May 22; more came from Iraqi civilians in and around Baquba; and Special Forces troops tracking al-Zarqawi's spiritual adviser developed still more, with help in at least one instance from those inside al Qaeda in Iraq, authorities said.

Special Forces developed information that the spiritual adviser, Sheik Abd-al-Rahman, would be attending the Wednesday meeting and likely would be with al-Zarqawi, military sources told CNN. Troops were on the ground nearby watching for al-Zarqawi.

Al-Rahman "was brought to our attention by somebody from within the network of Zarqawi's," U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell said.

Gen. George Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, said the operation had been under way for a couple of weeks, leading to the safe house in a wooded area near Baquba. (Map of target)

Naser Joudeh, spokesman for the government of Jordan -- al-Zarqawi's birthplace -- said Jordanian security forces also played a role in locating al-Zarqawi.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari a videotape issued by al-Zarqawi that surfaced on the Web in April provided authorities with clues regarding his whereabouts.

It was unclear who, if anyone, would receive the reward money.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Gary North said two F-16s already in the air over Iraq were diverted to the target.

One jet acted as a targeting guide while the other first dropped a laser-guided bomb to ensure the house was hit, and then followed with a satellite-guided bomb to ensure it was destroyed, North said.

Casey said al-Zarqawi was dead when Iraqi security forces arrived on the scene minutes after the airstrike.

Among the five other people who died in the attack were al-Rahman, along with a woman and a child who had not yet been identified. (Watch how attacks turned nearby houses to heaps of cinder blocks -- 3:23)

In the hours following the airstrike, forces carried out 17 simultaneous raids in Baghdad and its outskirts, which Caldwell said yielded a "treasure trove" of information.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Casey announced al-Zarqawi's death to applause in Baghdad. (Watch the celebration following the announcement -- 4:31)

"Iraqis can rejoice," said Caldwell, who showed reporters photos of al-Zarqawi's body after the raid. "They have earned it with their blood, their sweat and their tears."
'Special place in hell'

In statements posted on two Islamic Web sites, al Qaeda in Iraq confirmed al-Zarqawi's death and urged its followers to continue the insurgent fight. "People of Islam, God will not let our enemies celebrate and spread corruption in the ground," one statement said. (Chasing al Qaeda)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a staunch Bush ally, said, "A blow for al Qaeda in Iraq is a blow for al Qaeda everywhere." (Full story)

U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat, was more direct. "There's a special place in hell reserved for him," he said of al-Zarqawi.

Caldwell said it was likely al-Zarqawi had planned for his death or capture and identified a replacement, possibly naming Egyptian-born Abu al-Masri as a successor. It was also likely that al Qaeda in Iraq would reassert itself to prove it was "still a viable insurgent organization," Caldwell said.

"Every time a Zarqawi appears we will kill him," al-Maliki said. "We will continue confronting whoever follows his path."

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, told reporters, "We have to expect that there will be efforts made to attack us."

"The major problem Iraq has is not an insurgency -- which for the most part is not an al Qaeda creation -- but a sectarian feud and fighting," he said.
Allegiance to bin Laden

Al-Zarqawi, 39, gained notoriety in February 2003, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the U.N. Security Council to make his case supporting the U.S. invasion of Iraq. (Watch how al-Zarqawi's kin feel about his death -- :20)

Al-Zarqawi was the leader of one of the nation's many insurgent factions. In October 2004, al-Zarqawi pledged his allegiance to al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, and renamed his group al Qaeda in Iraq. (Relief for bin Laden?)

Al Qaeda in Iraq was blamed for brazen terrorist attacks, including a 2003 suicide bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that killed the U.N. envoy to Iraq and 21 others, and the November bombing of three hotels in Amman, Jordan, in which 60 people died.

Al-Zarqawi is believed to have been involved in the abductions and beheadings of several Western hostages. In addition, the United States believes al-Zarqawi had appealed to al Qaeda for help in starting a civil war in Iraq and encouraged sectarian violence. (Watch how al-Zarqawi murdered his way to the most-wanted list -- 2:50)