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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Zarqawi aide 'dies in air strike'
Zarqawi himself has a $25m price on his head
A close associate of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been killed in a US air strike on the Iraqi city of Falluja, the US military has said.

Planes attacked what was believed to be safe house used by Zarqawi in a "precision strike" at 0300 (midnight GMT) on Tuesday, the statement said.

However, Falluja hospitals said they received no casualties and local people said the bombed house was unoccupied.

US forces have been besieging Falluja to try to force out insurgents.

On Saturday, the US military claimed to have captured an ally of Zarqawi's from Falluja, but did not name him.

They did not name the victim of Tuesday's attack either.

Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group, which recently announced an alliance with al-Qaeda, has been blamed for hostage beheadings and suicide bombings in Iraq.

Network 'degraded'

The US has said Zarqawi's new alliance is as a sign of weakness.

"Recent strikes and raids targeting the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi network have severely degraded its ability to conduct attacks," the latest statement said.

The US military has described Falluja as a "shrinking haven" for Zarqawi's followers, who it said were moving to outlying areas of the city and trying to hide among the civilian population.

On Saturday the US said it had captured a senior militant associated with Zarqawi.

But the militant had only recently taken a top position in the group, it said, and has not been named.

Washington has offered a $25m reward for Zarqawi himself.

But city leaders have denied that he is even in Falluja.

Policeman killed

Meanwhile, in the city of Baquba, a local government official was shot dead, according to a deputy governor of the province.

The attackers also killed his driver.

Roadside bombs detonated in the city on Tuesday also killed a policeman and wounded at least 10 others, according to local security officials.

Insurgents frequently strike at Iraq's fledgling police and army, whom they regard as US collaborators.

A convoy carrying recruits to the national army was ambushed near Baquba on Sunday - almost 50 men travelling in it were then shot dead.


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