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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 June 2006, 19:20 GMT 20:20 UK
Iraq allies hail Zarqawi killing
Image of Zarqawi's body displayed at US military briefing
Pictures of Zarqawi's body were put on display by the US

The US and UK have hailed news that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, has died in a US air strike.

Zarqawi died when US planes dropped two 500lb (230kg) bombs on a site near the city of Baquba. He was identified by fingerprints, tattoos and scars.

The US struck after receiving specific tip-offs from within Zarqawi's organisation, officials said.

US President George W Bush described the news as a severe blow to al-Qaeda and "justice" for Zarqawi.

British PM Tony Blair described it as "very good news", but both leaders said Zarqawi's death would not end violence.


The newscame shortly before the Iraqi parliament approved the key posts of defence and interior ministers.

The two crucial roles had remained unfilled despite the formation of a coalition government last month.

Zarqawi's death was an opportunity for the new government to "turn the tide", President Bush said.

"The ideology of terror has lost one of its most visible and aggressive leaders," he added.

Correspondents say it remains to be seen if one man's death will bring a breakthrough in Iraq.

Applause

Zarqawi's "safe house" about 8km (five miles) north of Baquba was struck at 1815 (1415 GMT) on Wednesday, officials said.

Strike site
This is a message to those who choose the path of violence to change their direction before it is too late
Nouri Maliki
Iraqi Prime Minister

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki announced the news on Thursday, telling a news conference in Baghdad: "We have eliminated Zarqawi."

The news sparked sustained applause.

The strike was the "painstaking, deliberate result" of intelligence over "many weeks", US military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said.

He showed a picture of the militant leader's body and a videotape of the attack, in which he said American F-16 fighter jets dropped the two 500lb bombs on the site.

The body was moved to a secure site where Zarqawi's identity was confirmed, the official said.

A Jordanian government spokesman said Jordanian agents had contributed to the operation against Zarqawi.

ZARQAWI-CLAIMED ATTACKS
19 Aug 2003: Bombing of UN office in Baghdad, 23 dead
29 Aug 2003: Bombing of Najaf shrine killing Shia cleric Muhammad Baqr Hakim, 85 dead
2 March 2004: Co-ordinated attack on Shia mosques during Ashoura ceremony, 181 dead
11 May 2004: Nick Berg beheaded, first of at least nine foreign hostages killed in 2004
14 Sept 2004: Car bomb targeting police recruits in Baghdad, 47 dead
19 Dec 2004: Car bombs in Najaf and Karbala, 60 dead
9 Nov 2005: Triple attack on hotels in Amman, 60 dead

Mr Maliki said intelligence from Iraqi people had also helped to track down Zarqawi, who had a $25m (13m) price on his head - the same bounty as that offered by the US for Osama Bin Laden.

A statement on the internet attributed to an umbrella group for jihadi organisations including al-Qaeda in Iraq has confirmed Zarqawi's death, reports say.

Jordanian-born Zarqawi was said to have been in a meeting with associates at the time. Five other people were killed in the raid, including spiritual adviser Sheikh Abd-al-Rahman and an unidentified woman and child.

Within hours of the killings, troops launched 17 simultaneous raids around Baghdad, which yielded a "treasure trove" of intelligence, according to the US official.

'Violent thug'

Zarqawi was not a global mastermind like al-Qaeda leader Bin Laden, says the BBC's security correspondent, Frank Gardner.

Zarqawi's hometown, Zarqa, reacts to his killing.

Instead he was a bloodthirsty and violent thug, our correspondent says - who made enemies and several mistakes that might have contributed to his downfall.

These included ordering a triple suicide bombing against hotels in Amman, Jordan, last November, that killed 60 people, our correspondent says.

Zarqawi was accused of leading the rash of kidnappings and beheadings of foreign workers.

It has been suggested that he appeared personally on one video posted on the internet, cutting off the head of an American hostage.

A video released in April showed Zarqawi shooting an automatic rifle and berating the US for its "arrogance". The video provided the most up-to-date picture of the fugitive.

Violence continued on Thursday as 13 people were killed and 28 injured in a bomb at a Baghdad market, while an evening car bombing killed five and injured at least 13, police said.

Map
Jordanian intelligence reportedly assisted the US-led operation
Zarqawi traced to isolated safe house approximately 8km north of Baquba, north east of Baghdad
US aircraft launched air strike at about 1815. The militant leader was reportedly holding a meeting with associates, including spiritual adviser Sheikh Abd-al-Rahman, at time of raid
Several others were reportedly killed
Iraqi police were first on the scene, followed by troops from the Multi-National Division North
Zarqawi's identity confirmed by fingerprints, facial recognition and known scars




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