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al-Masri killed in Iraqi strike

April 19, 2010

BBC April 19, 2010

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and US officials say two leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq have been killed in a joint Iraqi-US operation.

Mr Maliki said on national TV that the Iraqi al-Qaeda leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who led an affiliate group, were dead.

The US military later confirmed the two had been killed by Iraqi forces.

Mr Maliki said both had been killed in Thar-Thar, Salaheddin province, west of Baghdad, by Iraqi agents with US help.

Iraqi TV showed pictures of both men before and after their deaths.

“The attack was carried out by ground forces which surrounded the house, and also through the use of missiles,” Mr Maliki said.

He said the house had been destroyed and the two bodies were found inside, in a hole in the ground in which they had been hiding.

In a statement, US Forces-Iraq Commander Gen Raymond T Odierno said: “The death of these terrorists is potentially the most significant blow to al-Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency.”

Previous official reports that both militants had been captured have turned out to be untrue.

Umbrella group

Abu Ayyub al-Masri is also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.

He is believed to have helped Abu Musab al-Zarqawi form the first al-Qaeda cell in Baghdad. Zarqawi was killed in June 2006.

The Islamic State in Iraq is an umbrella organisation that includes several radical Sunni militant groups.

Al-Baghdadi is a nom de guerre for its shadowy leader, although some US commanders have cast doubt on whether he even exists.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq has been blamed for some of the bloodiest insurgent attacks in the country since the US-led invasion of 2003.

Mr Maliki is currently contesting the results of the 7 March election which was narrowly won by former prime minister Iyad Allawi.

Election officials have ordered a manual recount of votes cast in Baghdad after complaints from Mr Maliki that the electronic system of counting was unreliable.

The recount could alter the final result of the poll.

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