US tracked down target after following his deputy

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the insurgent leader blamed for the slaughter of thousands in Iraq, was killed by two 500lb bombs dropped by a US fighter jet after he was tracked down to an isolated house in a date-palm grove north of Baghdad.

General George W Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, said the air strike at 6.15 pm on Wednesday hit "a single dwelling in a wooded area surrounded by very dense palm forest".

US and Iraqi intelligence officials discovered Zarqawi's hideout after following his deputy Abu Abdul-Rahman to a meeting in a house near the city of Baquba, 40 miles north of Bahdad. It was the final act in what the US military described as a "painstaking" spying operation involving sources within Zarqawi's network of associates.

"This gentleman was key to our success in finding Zarqawi," said Maj-Gen William Caldwell. "He was a top lieutenant ... and was identified several weeks ago. We were able to start tracking him, monitoring his movements ... Last night, he went to meet [him] again at 6.15pm [2.15pm GMT] when the decision was made to go ahead and strike that target."

Maj-Gen Caldwell added: "What everyone needs to understand is the strike last night did not occur in a 24-hour period. It truly was a very long, painstaking, deliberate exploitation of intelligence, information gathering, human sources, electronics, signal intelligence that was done over ... many weeks."

Two US Air Force F-16 fighter pilots flying a previously scheduled mission at "medium altitude" were given the target and orders to attack it, explained Lt-Gen Gary North, the senior air commander in the region. "We had 100 per cent assurance that Zarqawi was in the safe house," he said. The explosion of the laser-guided bombs killed Zarqawi and seven of his lieutenants. His body was later identified by fingerprint evidence and from known scars on his corpse. A statement from al-Qa'ida in Iraq, the movement he led, later confirmed he had been killed. The organisation's members vowed to continue the "holy war", saying: "We want to give you the joyous news of the martyrdom of the Mujahed Sheikh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi."

The US military showed a video of the strike that killed him, alongside two photographs of his body: Zarqawi's eyes shut; his nostrils filled with blood; with gashes to his forehead and cheek. The body of Abdul-Rahman was also identified.

President Bush said Zarqawi's death was "a severe blow to al-Qa'ida and it is a significant victory for the war on terror". But he added: "We have tough days ahead of us in Iraq."

In London, Tony Blair avoided triumphalism. Zarqawi's death was "very good news because a blow against al-Qa'ida in Iraq was a blow against al-Qa'ida everywhere," he said.

But he warned that there would be reprisals - and indeed there were. At least 31 people were killed in a spate of bomb attacks across Iraq yesterday. The deadliest blast saw a roadside bomb kill 13 people in a crowded market in the east of the country.

The death of Zarqawi is a boost to the new government of Nouri al-Maliki, which was able to appoint defence and interior ministers yesterday after months of wrangling. But the US government and US army, both of which have been battered by criticism, also wanted a share in the success. Mr Maliki had to share the podium at his press conference in Baghdad with General Casey.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests