Al-Qaida leader's death may disrupt link

BAGHDAD — The killing of a top al-Qaida in Iraq leader could disrupt a link between al-Qaida's top leaders and the radical Sunni Muslim group's Iraqi offshoot, but the identity of a second man who was killed isn't clear.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Monday that Iraqi and U.S. forces had killed Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayoub al-Masri, an Egyptian thought to have ties to the international al-Qaida leadership, in a rocket attack on their safe house in northern Iraq on Sunday.

Al-Baghdadi, the leader of the self-declared Islamic State of Iraq, is thought to be a pseudonym for Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi, an ex-Iraqi Army officer.

Vice President Joe Biden on Monday called the killings of Baghdadi and Masri "potentially devastating blows" to al-Qaida in Iraq. "But equally important, in my view," he added, "is this action demonstrates the improved security, strength and capacity of Iraqi security forces. The Iraqis led this operation, and it was based on intelligence the Iraqi security forces themselves developed following their capture of a senior AQI leader last month."

"The death of these terrorists is potentially the most significant blow to al-Qaida in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency," said Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

A U.S. soldier was killed in the operation and three others were wounded when their helicopter crashed during the overnight raid. The American military previously had said the aircraft wasn't downed by enemy fire, and it was investigating the cause of the crash.

However, while it appeared clear that one of the dead men was Zawi, some counterterrorism analysts remain unsure that Zawi was Baghdadi, and even whether such a person exists.