Sun, Sep 30, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Senior al-Qaeda leader killed in air strike, US says

AFP , WASHINGTON

A senior leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq was killed in a US air strike in Iraq this week, a US military commander said on Friday, calling it a key loss to a group already fractured by US operations.

Brigadier General Joseph Anderson identified the man as Abu Usama al-Tunisi, a Tunisian described as in line to succeed Abu Ayyub al-Masri, al-Qaeda in Iraq's Egyptian leader.

Tunisi also led a cell in Yusifiyah that kidnapped and killed two US soldiers on June 16 last year -- Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker, Anderson said.

"Abu Usama al-Tunisi was one of the most senior leaders within al-Qaeda in Iraq," said Anderson, the chief of staff of the Multi-National Corps Iraq.

The general said the Sept. 25 strike that killed al-Tunisi was a "significant blow" to al-Qaeda in Iraq, which he said has been severely disrupted by US operations and may now be reassessing its position in Iraq.

He said his opinion was that al-Qaeda would shift its forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, and try to expand its operations there.

"All we can tell you is that by numbers and how the groups are operating in very remote locations and not collaboratively they're fractured, ruptured, mitigated here. And the question becomes, where would they go? What would they do?" he said.

Anderson detailed a series of raids this month in Baghdad, Mahmudiyah, Yusufiyah and Musayyib in which scores of suspects were detained and nearly 20 others killed. Among those captured were other associates of Tunisi.

The military learned that the Tunisian was meeting with other al-Qaeda in Iraq members south of Baghdad in the vicinity of Musayyib on Tuesday.

"United States Air Force F-16 aircraft attacked the target," Anderson told reporters here via video linkup from Baghdad.

"Reporting indicated that several al-Qaeda members with ties to senior leadership were present at that time. Three were killed, including Tunisi," he said.

"His presence was confirmed by one of the two detainees from the operation, one who left the target area just prior to the air strike, who we eventually captured minutes later," he said.

An aerial video of the bombing shown to reporters at the Pentagon indicated that the target was a cluster of buildings in what appeared to be a rural area.

Ground forces recovered a handwritten note at the site that was believed to have been written by Tunisi, Anderson said, displaying photographs of the note.

"The key points in this hand-written note include, he's surrounded, communications have been cut and he's desperate for help," he said.

Anderson said that the surge in US forces since the start of the year had driven al-Qaeda in Iraq forces out of the Baghdad area into provinces north and west of the capital.

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