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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 May, 2005, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Zarqawi 'injury' attracts prayers
A poster in Baghdad opposing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Reports of an injury to Zarqawi started in early May
Messages of support for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have appeared on militant websites following a report that he has been injured.

The report came in a web posting on Tuesday and remains unverified.

Since then, bulletin boards have posted dozens of messages offering prayers for Zarqawi, who has been blamed for some of Iraq's bloodiest insurgent attacks.

It has been suggested the report is a manoeuvre designed either to foil pursuers or garner sympathy.

The fresh postings came as US-led forces launched another sweep for Zarqawi supporters in north-western Iraq.

The sweep has centred on Haditha, in the Anbar province which has been a centre of insurgent activity.

Some reports suggested that two key members of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the name used by Zarqawi's organisation, had been captured by US and Iraqi government forces.

Request for prayers

Jordanian-born Zarqawi has claimed scores of attacks against civilians and the security forces, as well as the kidnapping and beheading of foreigners.

He is the most wanted suspect in Iraq and has a US bounty of $25m on his head.

Unconfirmed reports have claimed that Zarqawi might have been injured, possibly during a sweep of the Iraq-Syria border by US marines a few weeks ago.

The destiny of the mujahidin is either victory or martyrdom... O Lord bless (Zarqawi) with one of them
Well-wisher's posting

In an interview with the Washington Post, a man claiming to be Zarqawi's lieutenant in the western city of Ramadi said his leader had been shot between his shoulder and chest during fighting at the weekend.

Abu Karrar said key members of Zarqawi's group were working with him to choose his successor from four candidates, three Arabs and an Iraqi.

The initial report that Zarqawi had been hurt, in a message signed by Al-Qaeda in Iraq and posted on a well-known Islamist site, failed to specify whether any injury was the result of combat.

It asked for Muslims to pray for his recovery, and said the injury was a reason to increase attacks on "the enemies of God".

'Chest wound'

One response on another website suggested he had been smuggled out to a neighbouring country for treatment to gunshot wounds to the chest.

It rapidly attracted postings claiming it was fraudulent.

A text message circulating in Iraq celebrating the reports of an injury to Zarqawi
Iraqi mobile phones have received texts celebrating the injury

Meanwhile, Zarqawi well-wishers continued to offer support.

"Forgive and heal our sheikh, the mujahid Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," read one message on the site which had carried Tuesday's announcement.

"O Lord, make his wound the atoning sacrifice for all misdeeds... Heal his wound and make him victorious over his enemies."

Another asked God to protect him from harm.

"The destiny of the mujahidin is either victory or martyrdom," it read.

"O Lord bless him with one of them."

In Iraq, a text message was circulating on mobile phones celebrating the injury and congratulating whoever had inflicted it.

Reports suggest wanted militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has been injured

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