By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 21, 2008
BAGHDAD, Nov. 20 -- U.S. forces said Thursday that they had killed an Iraqi insurgent leader responsible for the death of a 20-year-old Army reservist who became a focus of national attention in the United States during the four years he was missing in action.
U.S. soldiers fatally shot Hammadi Awdah Abd Farhan during a gun battle Nov. 11 that broke out as they entered a house in western Baghdad searching for him, the military said in a statement.
Farhan, a leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq who is also known as "Hajji Hammadi," has masterminded numerous other attacks, including one in June that killed three U.S. Marines, two interpreters and more than 20 Iraqis in the western city of Karmah, the U.S. military said.
"The removal of Hajji Hammadi from the AQI network is yet another significant blow to the terrorist organization," said Brig. Gen. David G. Perkins, the top spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, in a statement.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a mostly homegrown Sunni extremist group that has had foreign leadership, according to the military. The organization has been weakened over the past two years by U.S. military operations and the defection of its members to American-backed armed groups known as Sons of Iraq. But the group still carries out car-bomb attacks and assassinations.
The military said Farhan was behind the April 9, 2004, kidnapping of Sgt. Keith Matthew Maupin, who went by "Matt" and was a private first class at the time, during an attack on his fuel convoy. A video was broadcast days later on the Arabic satellite channel al-Jazeera, showing the Batavia, Ohio, native in a floppy camouflage hat surrounded by masked gunmen.
For nearly four years, there was no word on Maupin's fate. Then in March, soldiers acting on a tip from Iraqi residents found his remains in an agricultural area northwest of Baghdad. His case had become so well known that thousands of people paid respects to his casket and attended a funeral service in the Cincinnati Reds' stadium, the Great American Ball Park, in April.
Maupin's parents, Keith and Carolyn, set up a foundation in 2004, the Yellow Ribbon Support Center, to send care packages to the troops and keep their son's case before the public.
Reached by telephone, Keith Maupin said he had been informed Wednesday about the killing of Farhan.
"Well, I feel that justice is being done," he said. "Those bad guys over there can run, but they can't hide. They'll find them."
He described his son as a determined young man who was a college student when he joined the military, in part because of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"He was just a nice guy to be around," his father said. "He was like 6-2, 220 pounds. But he wouldn't hurt a flea."
The military statement said that Farhan was the "emir," or leader, of al-Qaeda in Iraq in the Karmah and Abu Ghraib areas west of Baghdad. He organized the June 26 attack on a meeting of U.S. soldiers and tribal leaders in Karmah, in which an assailant wearing an Iraqi police uniform detonated a suicide vest, the military said.
Among those killed was the commander of U.S. Marines in the area, Lt. Col. Max A. Galeai of Pago Pago, American Samoa. Farhan accompanied the suicide bomber and videotaped the explosion, the military said.
He also planned and carried out other attacks on U.S. forces, Iraqi police, Iraqi government officials and others, the statement said. He was linked to many assassinations of Sons of Iraq members in the Baghdad area, it said.
Five suspects believed to be associates of Farhan were captured in the home in Baghdad's Mansour neighborhood where the gunfight took place, the military said.