LONDON Al Qaeda in Iraq has confirmed in a statement posted on the Internet that two of its leaders were killed in a joint raid a week ago by U.S. and Iraqi troops.
The killings of al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the purported head of its affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), have been blamed for a series of apparent reprisal bombings that killed at least 56 people in Shi'ite areas of Baghdad on Friday.
The al Qaeda statement, posted on Islamist Internet forums and translated on Sunday by SITE Intelligence Group, quotes Abu al-Walid Abd al-Wahhab al-Mashadani, identified as the Sharia Minister of the ISI, as confirming that Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, and Baghdadi were killed in a military operation on April 18 in Thar-Thar, 80 km (50 miles) northwest of Baghdad.
"The ISI Sharia Minister, Abu al-Walid Abd al-Wahhab al-Mashadani, informed that both leaders were attending a meeting when enemy forces engaged them in battle and launched an airstrike on their location," the statement said.
"He said that the 'Crusaders' and Shi'ites will exploit the incident to improve the image of Iraqi security services and give the enemy alliance an 'illusory' victory after the mass-casualty incidents carried out by the ISI in Baghdad," the statement added, in an apparent reference to Friday's bomb attacks.
Masri and Baghdadi were found dead in a hole in the ground after their safe house was hit by a missile and stormed by Iraqi and U.S. troops.
Their deaths could be a major setback to the stubborn insurgency at a time when Iraq is emerging from the sectarian slaughter unleashed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion but the country still struggles to end suicide bombings.
(Writing by Michael Roddy)