Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - the leader of the terrorist group Al Qaeda in Iraq who has led a bloody campaign of suicide bombings, kidnappings and hostage beheadings – has been killed in a U.S. air raid north of Baghdad, according to the U.S. and Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced al-Zarqawi's death Thursday morning in Baghdad, saying that the terror group leader was killed Wednesday evening along with seven aides.
Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. general in Iraq, says al-Zarqawi's body was identified by both his face and his fingerprints.
"Today, al-Zarqawi was eliminated," Prime Minister al-Maliki told reporters in Baghdad, drawing loud applause as he was flanked by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Casey.
Al-Maliki said the air strike in the volatile province of Diyala was the result of intelligence reports provided to Iraqi security forces by residents in the area, and U.S. forces acted on the information.
"Those who disrupt the course of life, like al-Zarqawi, will have a tragic end," he said.
Khalilzad added "the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a huge success for Iraq and the international war on terror."
CBS News correspondent Susan Roberts reports that while there is no question that Zarqawi's death is a major victory for U.S. and Iraqi forces, it may have little impact on thenow plaguing the country.
The Jordanian-born militant, who is believed to have personally beheaded at least two American hostages, became 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.
A Jordanian official says Jordan helped pinpoint Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's location by analyzing the militant's last video.
Some of the information came from Jordan's sources inside Iraq and led the U.S. military to the area of Baqouba, the region northeast of Baghdad where Iraq's prime minister said al-Zarqawi was killed in an airstrike Wednesday night, said the official, who has knowledge of the operation.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was addressing intelligence issues, would not elaborate, but Jordan is known to have intelligence agents operating in Iraq to hunt down Islamic militants.
In Jordan, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's oldest brother said the family expected that he would be killed.
"We anticipated that he would be killed for a very long time," said Sayel al-Khalayleh in a telephone interview from Zarqa, the poor industrial hometown of al-Zarqawi from which the Islamic militant derived his name. His real name is Ahmed Fadhil Nazzal al-Khalayleh.
"We expected that he would be martyred," al-Khalayleh said in a low voice, signaling his grief over the death of his brother.
"We hope that he will join other martyrs in heaven," he added.
In the past year, al-Zarqawi moved his campaign beyond Iraq's borders, claiming to have carried out a Nov. 9, 2005, triple suicide bombing against hotels in Amman that killed 60 people, as well as other attacks in Jordan and even a rocket attack from Lebanon into northern Israel.
U.S. forces and their allies came close to capturing al-Zarqawi several times since his campaign began in mid-2003.
His closest brush may have come in late 2004. Deputy Interior Ministry Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal said Iraqi security forces caught al-Zarqawi near the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah but then released him because they didn't realize who he was.
In May 2005, Web statements by his group said al-Zarqawi had been wounded in fighting with Americans and was being treated in a hospital abroad — raising speculation over a successor among his lieutenants. But days later, a statement said al-Zarqawi was fine and had returned to Iraq. There was never any independent confirmation of the reports of his wounding.
U.S. forces believe they just missed capturing al-Zarqawi in a Feb. 20, 2005 raid in which troops closed in on his vehicle west of Baghdad near the Euphrates River. His driver and another associate were captured and al-Zarqawi's computer was seized along with pistols and ammunition.
U.S. troops twice launched massive invasions of Fallujah, the stronghold used by al-Qaida in Iraq fighters and other insurgents west of Baghdad. An April 2004 offensive left the city still in insurgent hands, but the October 2004 assault wrested it from them. However, al-Zarqawi — if he was in the city — escaped.