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Maj.-Gen. William Caldwell describes the attack that killed Musab al-Zarqawi at a news conference in Baghdad on Friday.

Musab al-Zarqawi initially survived the American air strike in which he was fatally injured, a U.S. general said Friday.

"From the debriefs [I've had] this morning, Zarqawi did, in fact, survive the air strike," Maj.-Gen. William Caldwell told a news conference in Baghdad.

Iraqi police put al-Zarqawi on a stretcher and U.S.-led coalition forces identified him by the distinguishing marks on his body,Caldwell said. Military officials had earlier said those included tattoos and scars.

He said troops on the scene gave medical assistance to the insurgent leader, but that he died almost immediately after he was found.

Before he succumbed to his injuries, al-Zarqawi tried to struggle on the stretcher and mumbled indistinguishably.

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This image of Musab al-Zarqawi was displayed by the U.S. military at a news conference in Baghdad. ((U.S. Military/AP))

Caldwell said al-Zarqawi was the only one of six people — three men and three women — killed in Wednesday's attack to be found alive immediately after U.S. forces bombed the safe house in which they were staying, located approximately 50 kilometres northeast of Baghdad in the province of Diyala.

The safehouse was destroyed by two 225-kilogram bombs launched from an Air Force F-16.

Al-Zarqawi, who had a $25-million bounty on his head, was killed at 6:15 p.m. Initial reports were that 10 people — including a child — had died.

All killed in attack were adults

Caldwell said Friday all of those killed were adults. He added that official casualty tallies from such operations often take several hours or days.

Al-Zarqawi's face was "very, very bloodied" and a decision was made to clean him up before his remains were photographed, Caldwell said. He added that none of the pictures had been digitally enhanced.

The military spokesman also denied al-Zarqawi had been shot.

"There was nothing in the report that suggested he suffered wounds from weapons," Caldwell said.

The leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Zarqawi was believed responsible for numerous car and suicide bombings, as well as the beheadings of foreign and Iraqi hostages.

Biological samples from his body have been sent to the FBI in Virginia for DNA testing, with results expected in three days.

Bush thrilled at news

U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday said he was "thrilled" the militant leader has been "brought to justice."

"This man has a lot of blood on his hands," said Bush, who spoke at a joint news conference with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen at Camp David.

Al-Zarqawi'sdeath won't end the violence in Iraq, but it will help a lot in theoverall war on terror, Bush said.

"The upper management of al-Qaeda was counting on al-Zarqawi to implement their vision outside of Iraq," he said.

"Part of their strategy is to create turmoil in moderate Muslim nations. Al-Zarqawi was the creator of that strategy."

Bush will remain at the Maryland retreat for high-level cabinet talks Monday on the future of Iraq.