Tuesday, May 24, 2005


AQ: "Pray For Brother Zarqawi"

Telegraph - Al-Qa'eda's wing in Iraq is reported to have put out a statement yesterday claiming that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted terrorist in the country, has been wounded, and calling on Muslims to pray for his recovery.

Some US officials privately said the statement seemed more credible than previous reports of his injury or death that have proved unfounded.

One official said he considered it likely that Zarqawi was ill rather than wounded. "Some intelligence that we have has shown he is ill, maybe even seriously ill," he said.

It is the first time that Zarqawi's network itself has made such a claim. "Nation of Islam, brothers in unity, pray for the healing of our Sheikh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi from an injury he suffered in the path of God," the statement read.

The authenticity of the statement could not be verified, although it was posted on a website known for carrying al-Qa'eda communiqu├ęs. It did not say how seriously Zarqawi was wounded.

If the claim is accurate, it would tally with reports from US military authorities that he was wounded or taken ill late last month.

American and Iraqi forces reportedly raided Ramadi hospital after receiving a tip-off that Zarqawi was inside. Soldiers searched every room and were said to have crawled down air conditioning ducts, but failed to find him.

His lieutenants later claimed in a written statement that Zarqawi had been in the hospital during the raid.

The brother of the murdered British hostage Ken Bigley last night welcomed reports that the chief suspect has been wounded.

Paul Bigley said Zarqawi, who is rumoured to have beheaded Mr Bigley himself last October, was an "evil man" who should be brought before a court

US forces allegedly found medical information on Zarqawi's laptop, seized in February when the insurgent leader narrowly escaped capture. His car was reportedly pulled over at a checkpoint outside Ramadi, but Zarqawi was said to have escaped on foot, leaving behind his computer, recent photographs of himself and an address book. Some have questioned the credibility of the US claims.

Washington has offered a £13 million reward for information leading to the killing or capture of Zarqawi, the same bounty placed on Osama bin Laden's head.

If yesterday's statement is true, officials said it would be likely that Zarqawi was seriously wounded or ill, and perhaps even dead.

While that would deal a psychological blow to the insurgency, it would be unlikely to make much difference to its intensity. His purported period of incapacitation has coincided with one of the most serious escalations in the insurgency for the past two years.