U.S. Military Says It's Positive It Killed Insurgent Leader Whose Existence It Once Doubted

The U.S. military in Iraq says the American command there is positive that raids it conducted with Iraqi security forces over the last weekend killed both Abu Ayyoub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, alleged two most senior leaders of Al Qaeda's Iraqi affiliate. "We can confirm with certainty that Masri and [Hamid Dawud Mohammad Khalil] al-Zawi [the supposed real name of Baghdadi], were killed," said Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, a spokesman for U.S. Forces In Iraq, in an e-mail sent to Declassified on Tuesday afternoon. He said that U.S. forces were able to confirm the identities of the dead men "through DNA testing, photo identification, finger print verification, and known scars." He added: "We have extreme confidence that these are the two individuals."

The general's statements came in response to a query from Declassified that noted (as we reported earlier Tuesday) that in a May 3, 2007, press conference, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, one of Lanza's predecessors as U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, had questioned whether a Qaeda leader in Iraq using the name Abu Umar al-Baghdadi really existed.

Some U.S. national-security officials have been saying for the last two days that because the capture, wounding and death of both Masri and Baghdadi had been reported prematurely in the past, they were reluctant to pronounce the two insurgents dead without extremely convincing proof. In the past, there was a belief among some intelligence officials that the pseudonym Abu Umar al-Baghdadi might have been a fake persona that was used by a number of unidentified Qaeda in Iraq operatives to make public statements on the terror group's behalf. But Lanza's message indicates that there are no remaining doubts at all in the U.S. military command that the two terrorist leaders had been killed.

In his message to Declassified, Lanza said that security forces had been led to the Qaeda leaders' hideout near Saddam Hussein's former hometown of Tikrit by multiple intelligence and human sources. The alleged terrorist leaders were repeatedly ordered to surrender, Lanza said, and were killed in a gun battle with U.S. and Iraqi soldiers after they refused to give themselves up.

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Lanza described the killing of the two Qaeda leaders as "a significant blow to al-Qaeda in Iraq." But he also acknowledged: "We expect these violent extremists will continue to try and terrorize the Iraqi people and reverse the tremendous progress the Iraqis have made."

U.S. Military Says It's Positive It Killed Insurgent Leader Whose Existence It Once Doubted | U.S.