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Air Strike Kills Zarqawi, Key Terrorist Figure in Iraq

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne with NPR diplomatic correspondent Mike Shuster joining us in the studio this morning.

The news this morning is that the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is dead. Zarqawi was killed yesterday in a U.S. air strike in a remote area 30 miles northeast of Baghdad. U.S. Major General William Caldwell, in a briefing for reporters a short time ago, described that air strike, the one that killed Zarqawi.

Major General WILLIAM CALDWELL (U.S. military spokesman): There was a flight of two F-16s from the United States Air Force. They have now been told where the target is. They have identified it. The lead aircraft is going to engage it here momentarily with a 500-pound bomb on the target.

MONTAGNE: General William Caldwell describing the air strike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. We go now to our correspondent in Baghdad, Philip Reeves. And Philip, what else can you tell us about that strike?

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Well, they went around twice. They dropped a 500-pound bomb and then looked down to assess the damage and then they went around again and dropped another 500-pound bomb just to be certain. And then the Iraqi police, after that attack had happened, moved into the scene and was shortly afterwards followed by troopers from the 4th Infantry Division. And they found the body of Zarqawi.

They looked at him and identified him and thought it was probably him. And then that body was removed to a secure location, said Major General Caldwell. The man you just heard there, the spokesman for the U.S. military. At that point they looked at his tattoos and his scars and they seemed to coincide with what they knew Zarqawi had and then a long process of identifying his fingerprints ensued, which was completed at 3:30 in the morning today, local time.

And that gave 100 percent identification of Zarqawi, but they're still even now checking with DNA tests and they expect the results within the next 48 hours. So, they are still doing a pretty thorough checking process. And they produced also - perhaps people who are watching the press conference on television might have seen this - a big picture of Zarqawi's face after he was found, which they'd cleaned up of the blood, and that coincided with what he looks like.

MONTAGNE: You know, how did they figure out where this safe house was? Obviously they've tried this in the past and they finally succeeded.

REEVES: Well, it was a very complex operation. And there are reports circulating that it involved not only the U.S. military but Jordanian intelligence. Although Major General Caldwell wouldn't be drawn on that matter, beyond saying that the Jordanians were close allies.

There are also rumors circulating that they received intelligence from, you know, a member of the al-Qaida network from inside the organization and this led to this complex process of working out exactly where Zarqawi was and then they finally identified him as being in this house. And they say they were 100 percent certain that he was there and then the air strike ensued.

MONTAGNE: Clearly good news, not just for the U.S. military, but Iraq's government.

REEVES: It's important news for Iraq's government. Iraqi and American officials are all emphasizing that they expect the violence to continue despite this development, but the government has been struggling to establish itself and it can only be a good thing to have eliminated a man who was hated by many Iraqis especially the Shia.

MONTAGNE: Philip, thanks very much. NPR's Philip Reeves, speaking from Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.