DUBAI (Reuters) - An al Qaeda-linked group in Iraq has confirmed the death of Abu Maysara, a top operative who the U.S. military said was killed in a clash last month, according to a recording posted on the Web on Saturday.
Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State in Iraq, hailed Maysara as “a martyr who was a scholar and a mujahid (holy war fighter)”, on the audio tape posted on Islamist Web sites.
The U.S. military said earlier in December that Maysara, a Syrian, was among nine senior al Qaeda members killed in November. It described him as an adviser to Baghdadi, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and his slain predecessor Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Baghdadi called on insurgents to keep fighting during the current Eid al-Adha feast, when Muslims sacrifice animals.
“May God accept your sacrifice, and may they be the apostates of the Awakening Councils, who are servants of the Crusaders,” Baghdadi said, referring to U.S.-backed neighborhood patrols who fight insurgents.
An increase in U.S. troops, more efficient Iraqi security forces and neighborhood patrols organized by mainly Sunni Arab tribes have been credited for a decline in violence and a fall in civilian and U.S. military casualties in the past two months.
The tape’s authenticity could not be verified but was posted on a main Islamist Web site often used by insurgent groups and the speaker sounded like earlier recordings of Baghdadi.
While the Iraq wing of al Qaeda remains at the forefront of many groups fighting U.S. forces and the Shi‘ite-led government supported by Washington, its fighters have faced growing opposition in the Sunni areas of Iraq where they operate. (Reporting by Firouz Sedarat; Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia)