Al Qaida leader in Iraq 'is still alive'

(China Daily/Agencies)
Updated: 2006-10-06 08:13

BAGHDAD: The US military said yesterday the leader of al Qaida in Iraq was still very much alive, denying reports by some Iraqi politicians that he had been tracked down and killed.

"We believe he is still alive," US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson said, dismissing claims by several Iraqi politicians that Abu Ayyub al-Masri and several associates were killed in a US airstrike this week.

Masri, an Egyptian who is also known as Abu Hamza al- Muhajir, assumed the leadership of al Qaida in Iraq after Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a US airstrike in June.

"There was a raid recently where we thought he may have been among those killed, but now we think it is highly unlikely," Johnson said. "We are going to rule out the possibility altogether by doing DNA tests."

Earlier, a member of parliament close to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Hasan al-Senaid, and a second source in the prime minister's office, who did not want to be named, said Masri had been killed in a US assault on a "safe house" in Haditha in western Iraq.

"Two days ago three people were killed in an airstrike on Haditha. Today it became clear from DNA tests that Masri was one of them," Senaid said.

A senior government official said this was "simply not true."

Defence Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari said: "It appears that the body ... was checked by US forces and is not that of Abu Ayyub al-Masri."

Another aide to Maliki said the DNA tests were still being conducted on the bodies. The tests suggested that one of the dead was an al Qaida leader but not Masri, he told Reuters.