Regional leader of Al Qaeda killed in northern Iraq
Raid is second in days against key terrorists
BAGHDAD — Iraqi and US troops killed a regional leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq in an early morning raid yesterday, as security forces continue to put pressure on the terrorist organization after the reported deaths of its two top-ranking figures over the weekend, officials said.
A senior Al Qaeda operative captured last month produced the information leading to yesterday’s raid as well as one that ended in the deaths of the organization’s top leaders, according to a senior Iraqi military intelligence officer who supervised both operations.
Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri were killed in Sunday’s joint operation, which Vice President Joe Biden called a “potentially devastating blow’’ to Al Qaeda in Iraq. The elusive leaders were killed in their desert safehouse about 6 miles southwest of Tikrit.
Iraqi intelligence services were able to track down all three men by building on information provided by the captured agent, the intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the clandestine nature of his job.
The killing of the Al Qaeda figures comes at a critical moment for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has staked his reputation on being the man who can restore stability to Iraq after years of bloodshed. His coalition came in second in March’s national election, but neither he nor his main rival has been able to muster enough support to form a new government.
The intelligence officer said Maliki oversaw the operations, and received daily briefings from him.
In yesterday’s raid, American and Iraqi joint forces launched a morning attack in the northern province of Ninevah, killing suspected insurgent leader Ahmed al-Obeidi, said Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, an Iraqi military spokesman.
Moussawi said the slain insurgent, known as Abu Suhaib, was in charge of Al Qaeda in Iraq’s operations in the provinces of Kirkuk, Salahuddin, and Ninevah.
Iraqi and American troops routinely share intelligence information, and it was a US tip — which then generated more information from Iraqi informants — that led authorities to the isolated desert area outside Tikrit where Masri and Baghdadi were hiding, according to a US official.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity so that he could talk more candidly about the operation.
Military pictures of the remote one-story safehouse showed its roof caved in and its mudbrick walls partly destroyed.
Major General Stephen Lanza, a US military spokesman, said the bodies of Masri and Baghdadi were identified using DNA matching, as well as fingerprint analysis and other methods.
Lanza said the operation involved ground and aerial forces.
The Iraqi officer said Iraqi troops surrounded the safehouse and a firefight began with those inside. Iraqi forces then radioed American helicopters, which fired missiles at the house and the shooting from inside stopped, the officer said.
Iraqi forces had been hesitant to storm the house because they had heard Masri might be wearing a suicide vest, he said.
Once the shooting stopped, they went inside and found two women still alive — one was Masri’s wife — and four dead men who have been identified as Masri, his assistant, Baghdadi, and Baghdadi’s son. A suicide vest was found on Masri’s corpse, the officer said.
The terrorist organization in the past has reacted to the deaths of leading figures with new attacks, but it was not immediately clear whether scattered violence yesterday across the country was related.
In one incident north of Baghdad, gunmen stormed into the home of a member of a Sunni group that joined forces with the Americans to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq, killing his wife, his 22-year-old daughter, and his three other children ages 8 to 12, a police officer said.
The member of the local Sahwa, or Awakening Council, was working a shift at a nearby checkpoint and discovered the bodies when he returned to his home in Tarmiyah, about 30 miles north of Baghdad, the officer said.