Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida's leader in Iraq who led a bloody campaign of suicide bombings and kidnappings, has been killed in an air strike, US and Iraqi officials said yesterday.
His identity was confirmed by fingerprints and a first-hand look at his face a major victory in the US-led war in Iraq and the broader war on terror.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Zarqawi was killed along with seven aides, including two women, on Wednesday evening in a remote area 50 kilometres northeast of Baghdad in the volatile province of Diyala, near the provincial capital of Baquba.
Loud applause broke out as Maliki, flanked by US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and US General George Casey, told a news conference in Baghdad that "al-Zarqawi has been eliminated."
Major General Bill Caldwell, spokesman for the US forces in Iraq, showed a picture of a dead Zarqawi at a televised news conference in Baghdad.
He said two F-16 warplanes dropped two 500-pound bombs on the site where Zarqawi was killed.
Al-Qaida in Iraq confirmed yesterday the death of Zarqawi and vowed to continue the fight against the US occupation, according to a web statement.
"We herald the martyrdom of our mujahid (warrior) Sheikh AbuMusab al-Zarqawi in Iraq... and we stress that this is an honour to our nation," said the statement on an Islamist web site, signed by Zarqawi's deputy, Abu Abdulrahman al-Iraqi.
US President George W. Bush said at the White House that Zarqawi's death "is a severe blow to al-Qaida and it is a significant victory in the war on terror." But he admitted "we have tough days ahead of us in Iraq that will require the continued patience of the American people."
US Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the killing of Zarqawi was "enormously important" for the fight against terror in Iraq and around the world.
But he cautioned: "Given the nature of the terrorist networks, the network of networks, the death of Zarqawi, while enormously important, will not mean the end of all violence of that country."
Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, said the American air strike was against "an identified, isolated safe house."
He said tips and intelligence from senior leaders of Zarqawi's network led US forces to the terror leader as he was meeting some of his associates.
A Jordanian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said his country also provided the US military with information that helped in tracking Zarqawi down.
Iraqi police in Baghdad's Shiite slum of Sadr City brandished their guns, firing in the air and chanting to show their elation over the news.
But amid the celebrations, violence persisted, with a bomb striking a busy outdoor market in a predominantly Shiite neighbourhood in Baghdad, killing at least 13 people and wounding nearly 40.
The Jordanian-born terror leader became Iraq's most wanted militant, as notorious as Osama bin Laden, to whom he swore allegiance in 2004. The United States put a US$25 million bounty on Zarqawi, the same as bin Laden.
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Zarqawi's death "was very good news because a blow against al-Qaida in Iraq was a blow against al-Qaida everywhere."
Zarqawi's fighters led a wave of kidnappings of foreigners, killing at least a dozen, including Arab diplomats and three Americans.
His group posted gruesome images of beheadings, speeches by Zarqawi and recruitment videos depicting the planning and execution of its most daring attacks.
Oil fell below US$70 a barrel yesterday after Zarqawi's death, raising faint hopes for a let-up in attacks on Iraq's wrecked oil industry.
Source: China Daily