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United States Warplanes Kill al-Qaida Leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

June 8, 2006 at 6:05 PM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: The American military says the most-wanted man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, met his end when the U.S. Air Force dropped two 500-pound bombs on his safe house in a rural village near Baquba, north of Baghdad, this morning.

Iraq’s new prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was the first to deliver the news publicly of Zarqawi’s death from the Iraqi capital this morning.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, Prime Minister, Iraq (through translator): Today we have managed to exterminate Zarqawi.


What happened today is a result of cooperation that we have been asking from our masses, and from our citizens, and the sons of our country that have been cooperating with us by providing us with information and to have facilitated the task of the Iraqi forces and multinational forces by striking a final blow.

RAY SUAREZ: Maliki was flanked by the U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey.

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, Commander Multi-National Force-Iraq: This happened in an air strike that was conducted against an identified, isolated safe house. Tips and intelligence from Iraqi senior leaders from his network led our forces to Zarqawi and some of his associates, who were conducting a meeting approximately eight kilometers north of Baquba, when the air strike was launched.

What I will tell you — and this will be fleshed out for you this afternoon — all of these operations are the result of a long, painstaking process, where tips and intelligence are received, processed, checked out. This process in itself has been — this particular one has been going on for a couple of weeks, and it led us to this house and to this meeting.

More specifics about the raid

RAY SUAREZ: At a later news conference, U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell provided more specifics about the raid.

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, Spokesman, Multi-National Force-Iraq: As you know, coalition forces killed Zarqawi and one of his top lieutenants, Sheik al-Rahman, yesterday, on June 7th, at 6:15 p.m., in an air strike against an identified, isolated safe house.

As you observe the target here, there was a flight of two F-16s from the United States Air Force. They have now been told where the target is. They have identified it.

The lead aircraft is going to engage it here momentarily with a 500-pound bomb on the target. The decision has been made now by the commander, the pilot in charge up there, that they are going to do a re-attack. And you'll see the second 500-pound bomb go in shortly.

Following this strike, Iraqi security forces, and specifically Iraqi police, responded to that location. They were the first ones to arrive on the scene.

That was followed very shortly thereafter by elements of the Multi-National Force-North, specifically troopers from the Fourth Infantry Division, which were a part of the 101st Airborne Air Assault Division up there.

They then moved to the location, swept through the site, and identified six persons that had been killed in that strike at that time.

Zarqawi's body was identified

RAY SUAREZ: Caldwell said Zarqawi's body was brought to a secure location where it was positively identified.

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL: They went ahead and brought him back, did further examination of his body, found more scars and tattoos consistent with what had been reported and what we knew about him. They then did fingerprint identification, and that came back at about 0330 this morning as positively identified as Zarqawi having been killed.

JOURNALIST: But there was no firefight, just it was just two air strikes?

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL: It was an Air Force strike that eliminated that target, and there was no further direct-fire engagement at that point.

We knew exactly who was there; we knew it was Zarqawi. And that was the deliberate target that we went to get. We also knew from having watched the movements of al-Rahman that he was there, too, in that house.

The information that we were able to gather over the last 24 hours is currently being used and exploited and will influence future operations, so it would be kind of inappropriate at this point to talk about future ops for operational reasons.

RAY SUAREZ: General Caldwell said a woman and child were among at least six people killed in the attack. The Jordanian government said today it assisted in tracking Zarqawi, a Jordanian native.

NASSER JUDEH, Spokesman, Jordanian Government (through translator): There was a security cooperation between all sides in chasing al-Zarqawi, especially the Jordanian security agencies, to find the location where al-Zarqawi might have been with his assistant. There were many attempts to find these locations, to capture him or attack these locations.

President Bush praised the raid

RAY SUAREZ: President Bush spoke from the White House Rose Garden this morning and, while he praised the operation, he warned that the battle against insurgents in Iraq was far from over.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: Iraqis can be justly proud of their new government and its early steps to improve their security.

And Americans can be enormously proud of the men and women of our Armed Forces who worked tirelessly with their Iraqi counterparts to track down this brutal terrorist and to put him out of business.

The operation against Zarqawi was conducted with courage and professionalism by the finest military in the world. Coalition and Iraqi forces persevered through years of near-misses and false leads, and they never gave up.

Last night, their persistence and determination were rewarded. On behalf of all Americans, I congratulate our troops on this remarkable achievement.

Zarqawi is dead, but the difficult and necessary mission in Iraq continues. We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him; we can expect the sectarian violence to continue. Yet the ideology of terror has lost one of its most visible and aggressive leaders.

We have tough days ahead of us in Iraq that will require the continued patience of the American people, yet the developments of the last 24 hours give us renewed confidence in the final outcome of this struggle: the defeat of terrorism threats and a more peaceful world for our children and grandchildren.

May God bless the Iraqi people, and may God continue to bless America.

RAY SUAREZ: Several world leaders joined the condemnation of Zarqawi, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose country has 7,000 troops in Iraq.

TONY BLAIR, Prime Minister of Britain: Every day, we hear of the death toll through the fomenting of civil strife, a campaign of murder, and kidnapping, and brutality, all of it designed to stifle Iraqi democracy at birth. And al-Zarqawi was its most vicious prosecutor.

The death of al-Zarqawi is a strike against al-Qaida in Iraq and therefore a strike against al-Qaida everywhere. But we should have no illusions: We know that they will continue to kill. We know there are many, many obstacles to overcome, but they also know that our determination to defeat them is total.

U.N. said Iraq welcomes the death

RAY SUAREZ: And, at the United Nations in New York, Kofi Annan said the Iraqi people would welcome Zarqawi's death.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. Secretary General: This is an individual who has been responsible for many heinous crimes, caused lots of problems in Iraq for the government and the people of Iraq, the people of Iraq who are afraid to step out, people of Iraq who are only demanding peace, stability and to have their streets back.

I think they will all be relieved that he is gone. And, of course, we cannot pretend that that will mean the end of the violence, but it is a relief that such a heinous and dangerous man who has caused so much harm to the Iraqis is no longer around to continue his work.

RAY SUAREZ: In Baghdad, there were celebrations in the streets. And at the attack site, Iraqis surveying the heaps of rubble expressed disbelief that Zarqawi had been living among them.

IRAQI CITIZEN (through translator): Today, at about 5:45, this house you are seeing, a family was living in it, and it was filled with children and old men and women. There is no Abu Musab or anybody else. They closed the area; they didn't let anyone in; and they laid explosives. Then they blew up the house.

IRAQI CITIZEN (through translator): We don't know. They rented the house. The story is that they came from another place because they'd been displaced and they came to live here.

RAY SUAREZ: Al-Qaida in Iraq confirmed the death of its leader in a statement posted on the Internet. The statement hailed Zarqawi as a martyr and vowed to continue the "holy war." In the hours after Zarqawi's death was announced, a series of car bombs rocked Baghdad, killing dozens of people.