May 25, 2005
Posting Says Zarqawi, America's Most Wanted Man in Iraq, Has Been Wounded
By JOHN F. BURNS and RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 24 - An Internet statement posted in the name of his
Islamic militant group said Tuesday that America's most wanted man in Iraq,
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had been injured "for the sake of God," a term
commonly used by militants in Iraq to refer to wounds sustained at the hands
of American or Iraqi troops.
The statement gave no details of the injury or how it was inflicted, but it
appealed to all Muslims to pray for the "speedy recovery" of Mr. Zarqawi,
who has claimed responsibility for scores of suicide bombings, ambushes,
drive-by assassinations and hostage killings, and attracted an American
bounty of $25 million. Last week, a statement issued in his name on the same
Web site justified the killing of Iraqi civilians in the course of insurgent
attacks, saying it was "necessary if you must kill them to get at the
The Web posting, whose authenticity could not be confirmed, came as a series
of insurgent attacks killed nine American troops across Iraq on Monday and
Tuesday, bringing the three-day total of dead American servicemen to 14.
The attacks on Tuesday included a suicide car bombing on an expressway in
southern Baghdad that killed three soldiers and reduced their Humvee to a
tangle of charred scrap. The attacks continued a wave of insurgent violence
that has killed 58 American troops and about 600 Iraqi civilians since the
beginning of May.
The claim that Mr. Zarqawi was injured followed a series of unconfirmed
reports that the Jordanian-born militant, named by Osama bin Laden as Al
Qaeda's chief representative in Iraq, sought hospital treatment in the past
month in at least two cities in the desert of western Iraq.
On Monday last week, Iraqi and American forces mounted a nighttime cordon
around the Karkh Hospital in central Baghdad after a tip that Mr. Zarqawi
had gone there for treatment, but they found no trace of him.
For weeks, American commanders in Iraq have said they believed they were
closing in on Mr. Zarqawi, and they have cited the arrest of more than 20 of
his "trusted lieutenants," including leaders of his terrorist cells,
propaganda chiefs, bomb makers, drivers and others.
But an American general in Iraq who was reached by e-mail on Tuesday took a
cautious view of the report that the militant leader had been injured,
saying that while the American command did not discount the report, "we
aren't banking on it, either."
"It could be a ruse to throw us off his trail," the officer said.
At the Pentagon, civilian and military officials said they had no evidence
to either prove or disprove the report on Mr. Zarqawi.
Some who studied the Web posting said they believed it to be authentic. One
of the first reports of the posting came from a Washington-based monitoring
organization, the SITE Institute, which scrutinizes Internet postings by
Islamic terrorist groups and offers subscribers English translations of the
Arabic texts. Its director, Rita Katz, said in a telephone interview that
the statement claiming Mr. Zarqawi had been injured appeared first on an
Internet message board that has been used regularly for pronouncements by
Mr. Zarqawi's group, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
"I believe this is a very authentic message," Ms. Katz said. "I really
believe this came from Al Qaeda in Iraq."
In a summary accompanying its translation, the SITE Institute described the
statement as "a seeming elegy."
The statement, signed by Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, the Zarqawi organization's
spokesman, described the militant leader's Islamic zeal as a "priceless
thing" for the insurgents, and added: "Even the Prophet was injured. Let
everybody know that the injury of our leader is an honor and causes us to
surround our enemy tighter and is an encouragement for us to increase the
intensity of attacks upon them."
Mr. Zarqawi, who is in his mid-30's, was first reported to be in Iraq during
the last years of Saddam Hussein's rule, when Western intelligence reports
said he had fled Jordan for refuge with an a Qaeda-linked Islamic group,
Ansar ul-Islam, that operated in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, along the
Iranian border. After the American-led invasion two years ago, he became the
leader, or sheik, of the Islamic militants, many of them from other Arab
countries, who joined hard-line remnants of Mr. Hussein's government in
mounting the insurgency.
The American command, and Mr. Zarqawi's own Web site pronouncements, have
depicted him as a Pimpernel figure, moving undetected between the main
centers of violence, in Baghdad, Falluja, Ramadi, Mosul and elsewhere. But
since the American-led offensive that recaptured Falluja in November, which
killed scores of Islamic militants and scattered others, American commanders
have made the destruction of his network a priority, mounting operations
they say have resulted in scores of his followers - in addition to 20 of his
top lieutenants - being captured or killed.
Mr. Zarqawi has had several narrow escapes. Earlier this month, American
officers confirmed that he had come close to being captured during an
American raid along the Euphrates River north of Ramadi on Feb. 20. The
commanders said a pickup carrying Mr. Zarqawi made an abrupt U-turn near an
American checkpoint between the cities of Hit and Haditha, 100 miles east of
the Syrian border, setting off a chase. The officers said Mr. Zarqawi leapt
from the pickup and hid beneath an overpass, leaving his driver and another
man to be captured, along with Mr. Zarqawi's laptop computer and more than
$100,000 in cash.
Disclosure of the incident came as a 1,000-man Marine battle group mounted a
weeklong offensive farther west along the Euphrates, seeking to disrupt or
destroy parts of the Zarqawi network. On May 13, an Iraqi general was quoted
in a report by the BBC's monitoring service as saying that Mr. Zarqawi had
suffered critical head injuries during an American bombing raid on the
border town of Qaim. The Iraqi officer was quoted as saying that Mr. Zarqawi
had been treated for his injuries at a Ramadi hospital, but had left before
Iraqi forces arrived.
Other reports appearing in Iraqi newspapers, also unconfirmed, have said Mr.
Zarqawi was in a hospital in Haditha and went undetected when it was
searched by American troops in early May. A report in The Sunday Times of
London quoted an unidentified doctor in Ramadi as having said that
"well-dressed" aides of Mr. Zarqawi's took him to a hospital there on May
11, four days after the Marine offensive began, and that he was "bleeding
heavily" from unspecified wounds. The paper quoted the doctor as saying that
he tried unsuccessfully to persuade Mr. Zarqawi to remain for treatment,
only to be offered - and to have refused - "a wad of U.S. dollars to secure
The latest deaths among American troops included four soldiers from the
155th Brigade Combat Team who were killed Monday after a homemade bomb
exploded near their convoy during what the American command described as
"combat operations" in Haswa, south of Baghdad. Also on Monday, a Marine at
a base in Ramadi was killed by what the military said was indirect fire,
which normally means a rocket or mortar.
On Tuesday, three soldiers were killed in central Baghdad when their Humvee
was struck by a suicide car bomb - the latest in a wave of similar attacks
across Baghdad in recent weeks. The explosion occurred as an Army convoy
neared an American base in the Rashid area of south Baghdad, an area of
frequent insurgent attacks.
Half an hour later, a crewman in a Bradley armored vehicle that was serving
as an observation post elsewhere in Baghdad was killed in a drive-by
shooting, according to a command statement. There was more violence against
Iraqi civilians on Tuesday, including a car bomb explosion near a school in
Baghdad, killing at least two and wounding eight, the police said, though
unconfirmed reports later in the day put the death toll at six. Reports from
the scene suggested that none of the victims were students.