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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May, 2005, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
Iraq backs Zarqawi wounded claim
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Reports of Zarqawi being injured started in early May
Reports that al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has been wounded are true, the country's interior minister has said.

"Yes it is true," Bayan Jabor said when asked about a statement posted on an Islamist website on Tuesday.

The minister said he had been notified that Zarqawi had been injured five days ago, but would not reveal his source.

A statement posted on Thursday claiming al-Qaeda militants in Iraq had named an interim chief has been denied.

Shadowy figure

The denial was posted on a website often used by al-Qaeda after a statement appeared on a lesser known website saying that a new chief would take control while Zarqawi recovers from his wounds.
We will go on in our way of jihad until victory or martyrdom
Statement urging prayer for Zarqawi

The authenticity of either statement cannot be verified.

The first statement identified the new deputy as Abu Hafs al-Qarni, a man it said had been handpicked by Zarqawi to carry out some of the most difficult insurgency operations in Iraq.

Little is known about al-Qarni. The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Baghdad says it is very difficult to identify members of al-Qaeda's hierarchy as so many of them use aliases.

Call for prayers

Jordanian-born Zarqawi is blamed for some of the bloodiest assaults in Iraq.

He has claimed scores of attacks against civilians and the security forces in Iraq, 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.

Our correspondent says that if Zarqawi has been injured, or if he were to die, it would be good news for Iraq's interim government and the US-led coalition.

However, it would be unlikely to spell an end to the insurgency, that has claimed the lives of hundreds in recent weeks, or even slow it down, she adds.

The statements containing the reports of injury to Zarqawi and his temporary replacement both called on Muslims to pray for the regional al-Qaeda leader.

"We will go on in our way of jihad until victory or martyrdom and we call upon Muslims to pray for the mujahideen and for the safety of our sheikh."

Iraqi minister confirms Zarqawi has been injured

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