Al Qaeda in Iraq Chief Killed ?

Reports have surfaced that the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq was killed by Sunni tribesmen, but the chief Iraqi government spokesman said Tuesday the information has not been confirmed and a major insurgent group denied the report.

A statement by spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh followed a welter of reports from other Iraqi officials that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, had been killed. Iraqi officials have released similar reports in the past, only to acknowledge later they were inaccurate.

"We will make an official announcement when we confirm that this person is Abu Ayyub al-Masri," al-Dabbagh told Al-Arabiya television. "The Iraqi government will work to identify him."

Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, head of the regional anti-Al Qaeda group Anbar Salvation Council, claims fighters loyal to his group engaged in a two-hour battle with Al Qaeda members and that al-Masri was among them.

Risha said that seven terrorists, including al-Masri and three other foreigners, were killed in the battle that took place between Tarmiyah and Samarra north of Baghdad. He said al-Masri's body was turned over to American forces who had arrived on the scene following the fighting.

The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella insurgent group, released the following Internet statement:
"The Islamic State of Iraq reassures the Ummah [nation] that Sheik Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, God protect him, is alive and he is still fighting the enemy of God."

The statement was posted on a Web site commonly used by insurgents.

Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. spokesman, said he could not confirm the reports, including a claim that U.S. forces had possession of the body in question.

"Obviously I hope it's true," Garver said, pointing out that previous Iraqi claims had proven false. "We want to be very careful before we confirm or deny anything like that."

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker told reporters that American authorities in Baghdad were seeking more information.

Talk Show America 5/02/2007

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