Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most-wanted terrorist in Iraq with a $25 million bounty on his head, was killed when U.S. warplanes dropped 500-pound bombs on his isolated safehouse northeast of Baghdad, coalition officials said Thursday.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell showed a picture Abu Musab al-Zarqawi with his eyes closed and spots of blood behind him after he was killed by an air strike. Caldwell also showed a video of the attack in which he said F-16 fighter jets dropped two 500 pound bombs on the site.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said al-Zarqawi was killed along with several aides, including spiritual adviser Sheik Abdul Rahman, Wednesday night in a remote area in the volatile province of Diyala, just east of the provincial capital of Baqouba, al-Maliki said.
Al Qaeda in Iraq confirmed al-Zarqawi's death and vowed to continue its "holy war," according to a statement posted on a Web site.
At the White House, President Bush said al-Zarqawi's slaying was "a severe blow" to the al Qaeda terrorist network and a decisive victory in the U.S.-led war against terrorism.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the U.S achieved "a significant victory" in the battle against terrorism. But he said the militant leader's death won't "mean the end of all violence" in Iraq.
Rumsfeld added that the al Qaeda-in-Iraq leader "personified the dark, sadistic and medieval vision of the future" held by Islamic militants.
In Baghdad, the Iraqi prime minister, flanked by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and U.S. Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told a news conference that "al-Zarqawi was eliminated."
But any hopes the Jordanian-born terror leader's death would help stem the violence in Iraq was dimmed hours later, with two bombs striking a market and a police patrol in Baghdad, killing at least 19 people and wounding more than 40. Later, a parked car bomb exploded in north Baghdad, killing six people and wounding 15.
The announcement about al-Zarqawi's death came six days after he issued an audiotape on the Internet, railing against Shiites in Iraq and saying militias were raping women and killing Sunnis and the community must fight back.
CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reported that officials say the U.S. had been tracking a key aide to al-Zarqawi, his spiritual adviser Sheikh Abed al Rahmen, to the area of Baqouba, a town about 30 miles northeast of Baghdad.
Iraq's foreign minister said the videotaped message al-Zarqawi released last week was also key in allowing intelligence experts to at least zero in on his location, CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reported.
A Jordanian official said Jordan also provided the U.S. military with information that helped in tracking al-Zarqawi down. Some of the information came from Jordan's sources inside Iraq and led the U.S. military to the area of Baqouba, the official said.
The U.S. got a specific tip yesterday, apparently from someone inside al-Zarqawi's own organization, Martin reported, and that tip said that al-Zarqawi would be meeting with his top aides in a specific house, on the outskirts of Baqouba. That's when the air strike was called in, Martin said.
The building was hit with two 500-pound laser guided bombs that were dropped by U.S. Air Force jets. Iraqi police were the first on the scene. They pulled al-Zarqawi's body from the wreckage, and then the process of identification began, Martin said.
Baqouba has in recent weeks seen a spike in sectarian violence, including the discovery of 17 severed heads in fruit boxes. It was also near the site of a sectarian atrocity last week.
"This is a message for all those who embrace violence, killing and destruction to stop and to (retreat) before it's too late. It is an open battle with all those who incite sectarianism."
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said al-Zarqawi's death "was very good news because a blow against al Qaeda in Iraq was a blow against al Qaeda everywhere."
Khalilzad added that "the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a huge success for Iraq and the international war on terror." He also gave a thumbs up and said it was a good day for America.
Since his emergence following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, al-Zarqawi had become Iraq's most wanted militant, as notorious as Osama bin Laden, to whom he swore allegiance in 2004. The United States put a $25 million bounty on al-Zarqawi, the same as bin Laden.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the process of examining the criteria for the award has "not been activated yet." Since the tip was provided by a man who was a member of al-Zarqawi's organization, it is very unlikely he will see any of the $25 million reward on al-Zarqawi's head, Martin reported.
His fighters led a wave of kidnappings of foreigners, killing at least a dozen, including Arab diplomats and three Americans. Al-Zarqawi is believed to have wielded the knife in the beheadings of two of the Americans, Nicholas Berg and Eugene Armstrong, and earned himself the title of "the slaughtering sheik" among his supporters.
He has also been a master Internet propagandist, spreading the call for Islamic extremists to join the "jihad" or holy war in Iraq. His group posted gruesome images of beheadings, speeches by al-Zarqawi and recruitment videos depicting the planning and execution of its most daring attacks.
Al-Zarqawi was committed to fighting not only Western civilization, but also Shia Muslims who make up 60 percent of Iraq's population, Palmer reported. Now that he is dead, there's hope that other Sunni insurgent groups who are fighting with him may be convinced somehow to lay down their arms, and perhaps even join the government, Palmer said.
But CBS News terrorism analyst Michael Scheuer, a former CIA officer, cautioned that al-Zarqawi's death may not stem violence in Iraq.
"In some ways this is very good news for al Qaeda, because al Qaeda's forces in Iraq will now focus more on Americans and the Iraqi government, than on simply killing Shias because they're heretical people," Scheuer told CBS News' The Early Show.
"It's very good news for America. But in terms of the Iraqi insurgency, the insurgency probably will return to more military related targets now," Scheuer added.
While leaders said the killing was a major victory, Iraqi citizens had mixed reactions.
"If it's true al-Zarqawi was killed, that will be a big happiness for all the Iraqis," said college student Thamir Abdulhussein. "He was behind all the killings of Sunni and Shiites. Iraqis should now move toward reconciliation. They should stop the violence."
Amir Muhammed Ali, a 45-year-old stock broker in Baghdad, was skeptical that al-Zarqawi's death would end the unrelenting violence in the country.
"He didn't represent the resistance, someone will replace him and the operations will go on," he said.
In the past year, he moved his campaign beyond Iraq's borders, claiming to have carried out a Nov. 9, 2005, triple suicide bombing against hotels in Amman, Jordan, that killed 60 people, and even a rocket attack from Lebanon into northern Israel.
Caldwell, the U.S. military spokesman, said an Egyptian-born man he identified as Abu al-Masri will probably take over al-Qaida in Iraq. He said al-Masri trained in Afghanistan and probably came to Iraq in 2002, probably helping to establish the first al-Qaida cell in Baghdad.