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Coalition, Iraqi Forces Continue Decimating Zarqawi's Terror Network

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 6, 2005 – Over the past several months, coalition troops and Iraqi security forces have captured or killed more than 20 of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's trusted lieutenants and other high-ranking network members, military officials in Baghdad reported in a written statement today.

Hundreds of other members of the fugitive Jordanian's terror network also have been captured and killed as coalition and Iraqi forces continue to degrade his organization, the statement from Multinational Force Iraq headquarters said.

Coalition forces just missed capturing Zarqawi during a raid on Feb. 20, the statement noted. The raid occurred between Hit and Haditha near the Euphrates River.

Zarqawi was able to escape capture as coalition forces closed in on his vehicle. But Zarqawi's driver, Abu Usama, was captured during the raid.

"Zarqawi became hysterical," the driver told interrogators. "Zarqawi did not know where he was, because he demanded repeatedly 'Who lives in this area? What sub-tribe is here?'"

Usama said Zarqawi then quickly grabbed his American-made rifle with one magazine and an unknown amount of U.S. dollars and escaped. He left behind his computer, pistols and more ammunition, which were all seized in the raid. Officials believe Zarqawi went back to Haditha and hid with members of local tribes who continue to provide him support and sanctuary, the MNFI statement said.

Top leaders of Zarqawi's network either captured or killed include terror-cell leaders, propaganda chiefs, bomb makers, drivers and other key lieutenants. The degradation of the Zarqawi terrorist network in Mosul, Baghdad and western Iraq significantly impaired the network's effectiveness in targeting Iraqis and coalition forces in February and March, the statement said, and also impeded his ability to move around and communicate freely.

Lately, in what officials said are attempts to demonstrate control, Zarqawi's network continues to detonate car bombs that are claiming the lives of Iraqi citizens. Officials said he relies on incomplete stories and sensational footage to garner publicity for his terrorist network.

"Although Zarqawi's network has been diminished, his followers can still muster forces for attacks," said Col. Don Alston, MNFI spokesman. "While these attacks have targeted (Iraqi security forces), coalition forces and Iraqi citizens, they have resulted most often in killing numerous innocent Iraqi civilians."

Zarqawi relies on one terrorist commander in particular, Abu Talha of Mosul. Talha and his henchmen are responsible for the murders of hundreds of innocent Iraqi civilians, the MNFI statement said.

This most-wanted terrorist in Mosul has further separated himself from what many Iraqis believed to be a jihad, or holy war, by resorting to stealing cars from the local population and continuing to conduct kidnappings to fund other terrorist activities, the statement added. Some key leaders formerly within the network and some associated with Talha have become disenchanted and disgusted, the statement said, because what they believed to be a holy war actually consists of acts of murder, theft and extortion.

One detainee said the network in Mosul has degraded to the point where Talha is receiving less funding from sources outside of Iraq and has to rely on theft, kidnapping and extortion to support terrorism and continue to rule Mosul by fear, officials said, and many are coming to the realization that Zarqawi's tactics are no different. Captured members of the network indicate they had become disheartened by the criminal activities being carried out by the organization.

An April 28 raid yielded a letter written by terrorist Abu Asim al-Qusaymi al-Yemeni. Analysts believe the letter, dated April 27, was meant for Zarqawi. Though the letter praises Zarqawi for being "a thorn in the mouth of the Americans," its main thrust addresses low morale, weakening support for the war against America, and the incompetence of many terrorist leaders operating in Iraq.

"Zarqawi represents the worst aspects of the insurgency," said Alston. "He's a foreign terrorist in Iraq, killing innocent Iraqis, and trying to delay them from their chosen destiny."

(From Multinational Force Iraq news releases.)

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