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.
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