Militant al-Zarqawi killed in air attack

Jordanian-born militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said to be responsible for many bombings and hostage-takings in Iraq, has been killed in a U.S. air raid north of Baghdad.

Jordanian-born militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,the most wanted insurgent in Iraq, has been killed in a U.S. air raid north of Baghdad,Iraq's prime minister said Thursday.

The leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, said to beresponsible for numerous car and suicide bombings and beheadings of foreign and Iraqi hostages, was one of10 people killed Wednesday in a safe house50 kilometresnortheast of Baghdad in the province of Diyala.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the air strike was the result of intelligence reports provided to Iraqi security forces by residents in the area.

"Today, al-Zarqawi was eliminated," al-Maliki told a news conference, joined by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Casey said the hunt for al-Zarqawi began in the area two weeks ago.

Khalilzad added "the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a huge success for Iraq and the international war on terror."

Al-Qaeda in Iraq also confirmed al-Zarqawi's death on their website and vowed to continue their "holy war."

At a briefing in Baghdad, Maj.-Gen. William Caldwell said U.S. F-16 jets dropped two 225-kilogram bombs on the house. He said U.S. and Iraqi intelligence found al-Zarqawi by following his spiritual adviser, Abdul Rahman al-Iraqi, to the site.

"We had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Zarqawi was in the house," Caldwell said.

He said Iraqi police then moved on to the scene, along with troops from the multinational force. His body was removed and brought back to a secure location where it was positively identified at 3:30 a.m. Thursday.

Confirmation was made with scars, tattoos and fingerprints known to be al-Zarqawi's,Caldwell said, adding that a DNA analysis is also being performed.

Within hours of the attack, 17 simultaneous raids were conducted in Baghdadand the surrounding area, Caldwell said, adding that important information was seized.

"It was a treasure trove, no question," he said without providing details.

Al-Zarqawi, who launchedhis campaign in mid-2003, was Iraq's most wanted militant. The United States put a $25-million US bounty on his head, the same as Osama bin Laden.

U.S. forces and their allieshave said they have come close to capturing al-Zarqawi in the past.He was apparently caught in late 2004 by Iraqi security forces near Fallujah but releasedwhen they did not realize who he was.

In a Feb. 20, 2005 raid, U.S. forces say theynearly captured al-Zarqawi when they identified his vehicle west of Baghdad near the Euphrates River. He escaped but his driver and another associate were captured. Al-Zarqawi's computer was seized.

In May 2005,al-Zarqawi was reportedly woundedin fighting with Americans.

Along with a number of bombings and killings in Iraq, al-Zarqawi claimed to be behind the Nov. 9, 2005 triple suicide bombing against hotels in Amman that killed 60 people.