Al Qaeda Iraq Chief Killed In Raid?

Zarqawi's successor, Abu Ayyub Al-Masri aka Sheik Abu Hamza Al-Muhajer Dept. of Defense

Iraqi officials are doing DNA tests on a slain militant to determine if he is al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the deputy interior minister said Thursday.

A U.S. military official says it is "highly unlikely" that al-Masri is the man who two Arab satellite TV channels have reported to have been among those killed near Haditha in a raid by U.S. forces.

"We suspect one of those killed is Abu Ayyub al-Masri," said Iraqi Deputy Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal. "We are holding DNA tests to find out if he is."

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said a number of al Qaeda suspects were killed in a recent raid in western Anbar province and initially "we thought there was a possibility al-Masri was among them."

"As we did further analysis, we determined that it was highly unlikely that he was killed," Johnson told the Associated Press.

Deputy Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal said the raid took place two days ago, but he and Johnson refused to give further details.

On Sunday, Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, told reporters U.S. and Iraqi forces were closing in on al-Masri.

But on Wednesday, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Willian Caldwell sounded more skeptical.

"I'd love to tell you we're going to get him tonight," he told reporters. "But, obviously, that's a very key, critical target for all of us operating here in Iraq. ... We feel very comfortable that we're continuing to move forward very deliberately in an effort to find him and kill or capture him."

Caldwell said a personal assistant to al-Masri had been captured in a Sept. 28 raid in Baghdad, the second figure close to the al Qaeda in Iraq chief to be captured that month. "We're obviously gleaning some key critical information from those individuals and others that have been picked up," he said.

Caldwell also said the military has killed or captured an increasing number of suspected members of al Qaeda in Iraq, the most feared Sunni insurgent group. In September, 110 al Qaeda suspects were killed and 520 detained.

Al-Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, took over al Qaeda in Iraq after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed June 7 in a U.S. airstrike northeast of Baghdad.

U.S. officials said al-Masri joined an extremist group led by al-Qaeda's No.2 official in 1982. He joined al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in 1999 and trained as a car bombing expert before traveling to Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

In other recent developments:

  • An intelligence report seen by CBS News says a number of Iraqi hospitals and morgues have become command and control centers for the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia led by anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan says the report details incidents in which Sunnis hospital patients have been dragged from their beds and murdered. In other cases, hostages are believed to have been kept in hospitals, where they were tortured and executed. The report also says ambulances have been used to transport hostages and weapons, and as getaway vehicles for fighters fleeing U.S. forces.

  • Iraqi authorities for the first time pulled a brigade of around 700 policemen out of service Wednesday for investigation of suspected ties to death squads. The suspended police brigade was responsible for a region of Baghdad where gunmen Sunday kidnapped 24 workers from a frozen food factory. Seven of the workers were later found murdered. Sunni officials blamed Shiite militiamen in the attack and accused the Shiite-led police of turning a blind eye to their operations. The U.S. says the brigade is being investigated and retrained.

  • A U.S. military spokesman said the past week had the highest number of car bombs and roadside bombs in Baghdad so far this year. Car bombs, as well as other explosions and shootings, killed 32 people. In Wednesday's deadliest attack, a string of two bombs and an explosive-packed vehicle blew up in a district of stores and auto shops in a mainly Christian neighborhood of Baghdad, killing 12 people and wounding 56. Hours later, after the end of the day's Ramadan fast, gunmen opened fire on a popular cafe in a northeastern part of the capital, killing four patrons and wounding seven others.

  • The U.S. military announced the deaths of two soldiers in gunfire Tuesday in Baghdad and the northern city of Kirkuk — bringing to 17 the number of Americans killed in combat since Saturday.

  • Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Monday announced a security plan which would create local committees in which Sunnis and Shiites would work together to manage efforts to stop the violence on a district-by-district level. Details of the plan still must be worked out — and Shiite and Sunni parties for a second day Wednesday put off negotiations.
    • James Klatell

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