Senior al-Qaida leader killed in Iraq

A US military helicopter fired a guided missile to kill a wanted al-Qaida in Iraq leader from Saudi Arabia who was responsible for the bombing deaths of five American soldiers, a spokesman said today.

A US military helicopter fired a guided missile to kill a wanted al-Qaida in Iraq leader from Saudi Arabia who was responsible for the bombing deaths of five American soldiers, a spokesman said today.

US Navy Rear Admiral Gregory Smith said Jar Allah, also known as Abu Yasir al-Saudi, and another Saudi known only as Hamdan, were both killed on Wednesday in Mosul.

According to the military, al-Saudi conducted numerous attacks against Iraqi and US forces, including a January 28 bomb attack that killed the five US soldiers.

In that attack, insurgents blasted a US patrol with a roadside bomb and showered survivors with gunfire from a mosque. The soldiers died in the explosion – the deadliest on American forces since six soldiers perished on January 9 in a booby-trapped house north of Baghdad.

Intelligence gathered in the Mosul area led the US military to al-Saudi, who was in a car with Hamdan. A precision helicopter strike killed both and destroyed their vehicle. US forces then confirmed the men’s identities.

Smith said their deaths brought to 142 the number of al-Qaida insurgents killed or captured in Mosul since the beginning of the year.

Al-Saudi was the man who headed the al-Qaida network in south-east Mosul, an insurgent hotbed where US forces wage daily battles against the group.

“Mosul is the centre of al-Qaida’s terrorist activities today. Mosul is a critical crossroads for al-Qaida in Iraq. Baghdad has always been al-Qaida’s operational centre of gravity, but Mosul remains their strategic centre of gravity as it provides access to the flow of foreign fighters,” Rear Admiral Smith said.

Mosul is located at the locus of roads that connect Iraq with Syria to the west, Turkey to the north and Iran to the east. Many fighters smuggled in from Syria make their way through Mosul, where they can easily blend in with city’s ethnically and religiously diverse population.

“It is their strategic centre of gravity. One-half to two-thirds of attacks in Iraq today are in and around Mosul,” Rear Admiral Smith said.

A successful programme to recruit and fund Sunni tribesmen has also slashed al-Qaida’s influence in Baghdad and western Anbar province, pushing the group into Diyala province and up toward Mosul – fighting as they retreat north.

In one incident today, 13 gunmen were killed and eight were injured in clashes with American and Iraqi forces in the town of Tal Afar – on the road from Syria to Mosul. Tal Afar Mayor Major General Najim Abdullah said that two police officers were also killed and four were injured.

In two other separate attacks in Diyala, police reported that five people were killed when a roadside bomb hit a bus, while another assault killed a patrolling police officer.

It remains unclear if al Qaida was responsible for Friday’s kidnapping of Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho and the killing of three people who were with him. Rear Admiral Smith said that Iraqi and US forces were searching for those who abducted the cleric as he left Mass in the northern city of Mosul. The European Union also appealed for his release and condemned the kidnapping in an announcement.

He said there was no way to predict when Mosul would be rid of al Qaida, adding that “there is no timetable per se to turn over security in any particular area of Iraq, including Baghdad” to Iraqi forces.

According to the military, al-Saudi planned and conducted numerous attacks against Iraqi and US forces, including a reported attempt with a 5,000-lb vehicle bomb that would have killed hundreds of people if it had exploded.

Al-Saudi was a close associate of al Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri and arrived in Mosul with a group of foreign fighters last August after spending time fighting in Afghanistan.

“After fighting and training in Afghanistan, he was brought to Iraq by Abu Ayyub al-Masri in November 2007, one of four Saudi Arabians appointed to supervise al Qaida activities in Mosul. He was quickly moved up to run all of the terror network’s operations in south-east Mosul, becoming the most visible and active al Qaida operative in the area,” Smith said.

In another incident, the military expressed regret over the killing of a teenager on Friday by a helicopter gunship that thought it was firing on suspected roadside bombers planting a device, the military said.

It added that residents later told troops that a group of boys had been digging up roots for firewood.

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