By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 4, 2007
BAGHDAD, May 3 -- U.S. troops killed a senior al-Qaeda in Iraq leader who military officials said helped orchestrate the kidnappings of Westerners, including American journalist Jill Carroll and slain Virginia peace activist Tom Fox, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq said Thursday.
The death of Muharib Abdul Latif al-Jubouri came during a pre-dawn raid Tuesday on four buildings west of the Iraqi city of Taji, north of Baghdad, said Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell. He described Jubouri as "senior minister of information for al-Qaeda in Iraq," responsible for the insurgent group's propaganda arm. Jubouri was killed in a firefight, he said, and his body was later identified through photos and DNA testing.
"Picking up somebody with that kind of history, that is significant -- to be able to stop that kind of activity," Caldwell said. "Taking him off the street is a good thing."
The announcement came as the U.S. Embassy said a rocket attack Wednesday night killed four Asian civilian contract workers inside the Green Zone, which houses the embassy and senior Iraqi government officials. The dead were one Filipino, one Nepali and two Indians. All were employed by a U.S. government contractor for jobs such as serving food, U.S. officials said. It was the third consecutive day that rocket or mortar fire had struck the Green Zone.
"We're constantly looking at our security measures and adjusting to take into account the environment," said Dan Sreebny, a U.S. Embassy spokesman.
Caldwell said Jubouri was the last person known to have "personal custody" of Fox, of Clear Brook, Va., who worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams, a group based in Chicago and Toronto. Fox's body was found in Baghdad in March 2006, shot multiple times. He was 54 and a father of two.
Fox's former wife, Janet Echols Stansel of Springfield, Va., said the family had not been contacted yet by the government. "I don't know whether it is true or not," said Stansel, referring to Jubouri's involvement in Fox's kidnapping. "Whatever I think I feel is subordinate to what the children feel. . . . The children lost their father. They were very close."
Jubouri was also involved in moving Carroll, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, from one hiding place to another and creating ransom and propaganda communiques about her before she was released in late March 2006, Caldwell said.
In addition, Caldwell said, Jubouri was linked to the kidnapping in early 2006 of two German engineers who were released after being held for three months.
Iraqi government officials said Tuesday that Sunni tribal groups had killed Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, in the same area near Taji. U.S. military officials promptly said they were unable to confirm this.
On Thursday, Iraqi government officials said the man who had been killed was actually Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni insurgent umbrella organization said to have been created by al-Qaeda in Iraq.
But Caldwell questioned whether Baghdadi "even exists," stressing that the U.S. military had nobody, "alive or dead," that is "going through any kind of testing or analysis at this point," referring to both Masri and Baghdadi.
"There's a lot of discussion about a person called al-Baghdadi, but we actually have no knowledge who that might be," Caldwell said.
The Islamic State of Iraq, in a statement posted on an insurgent Web site, asserted that Jubouri had been "martyred" but that Baghdadi was still alive.
"We assure the nation that our chief 'Abu Omar al-Baghdadi' is still enjoying the blessings of God, and that what media agencies stated that he was killed is not true," the statement read.
The confusion over the fate of the al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders appeared to stem from an apparent miscommunication between U.S. military officials and their Iraqi counterparts.
On Wednesday, after Jubouri's body was positively identified, the military allowed another detainee from his tribe, whom they deemed not dangerous, to take his corpse to a mosque in Baghdad for a proper Muslim burial, Caldwell said.
The vehicle was stopped at an Iraqi checkpoint, where soldiers recognized Jubouri as someone on their wanted list, Caldwell said.
The soldiers then immediately took Jubouri's body back into custody, Caldwell said. "Obviously, there was no coalition forces associated with him at that point."
Eventually, the body was returned to the Americans for identification again before the confusion was cleared up, Caldwell said.
Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem al-Kinani, an Interior Ministry spokesman, described another version of events. He said ministry officials had learned that Jubouri's body was about to be smuggled out of Baghdad and followed the corpse, later taking it into custody.
Still, Caldwell praised the Iraqis and said the fact that they stopped the vehicle and identified Jubouri as someone significant spoke "volumes for the professionalization, the growth and development of the Iraqi security forces."
"They were alert, they were attentive," Caldwell said. "Although they may have made the wrong assessment who that was, at least they knew they had someone very important."
The operation that killed Jubouri followed a separate, 72-hour attack dubbed Operation Rat Trap, which Caldwell said led to the deaths of 15 suspected insurgents and the capture of 95 others.
Jubouri, who Caldwell said was closely associated with Masri, was captured by U.S. forces in Iraq in 2003 and released in 2004, Caldwell said. Since then, he added, Jubouri had operated out of Syria and Iraq. He coordinated the flow of foreign fighters and finances into Iraq, he added.
During the strike that killed Jubouri, U.S. forces killed four other suspected insurgents, Caldwell said, and detained six others.
The Christian Science Monitor reported on its Web site that Carroll does not recognize the photo of Jubouri released by the military. Her Iraqi interpreter, Allan Enwiyah, was killed when she was abducted in January 2006.
Special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim and Waleed Saffar in Baghdad and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.