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6/14/06

Al-Qaeda's New Leader

The U.S. military on Thursday revealed for the first time a photo of the man said to be the new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.

The military said the picture showed Egyptian-born Abu Ayyub al-Masri, believed to have taken over the terror network after the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi last week.

The Defense Intelligence Agency declassified the photograph on Wednesday, said U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell at a news conference in Baghdad, adding that he had no idea how the DIA got the photo. (

In addition to being a senior al Qaeda in Iraq operative and a direct associate of Zarqawi, al-Masri "has been a terrorist since about 1982, beginning with his involvement in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which was led by Zawahiri," said Caldwell, referring to al Qaeda's number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Caldwell described al-Masri as "an explosives expert, specializing in the construction of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices," and that he went to Afghanistan to receive training before working with al-Zarqawi in Falluja.

Caldwell also noted that a power struggle may still be under way inside al Qaeda in Iraq.

"We're not fully sure who will actually eventually rise and assume the leadership role," Caldwell said. "Our assumption is it will be him," he added, referring to al-Masri.

U.S. intelligence was split Wednesday over whether al-Masri was the same person as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, who was named as al-Zarqawi's successor in a Web message last week.

Caldwell defended the military's release of al-Masri's photograph, saying that "a lot of discussion" occurred on senior levels about whether to release it and "our intent is not to glorify him or make him more important."

A standard $250,000 reward for information leading to al-Masri's death or capture is still in effect and was in force before al-Zarqawi's death caused by a U.S. airstrike last week, said Caldwell.

Iraq reveals 'al Qaeda plans'

The Iraqi government Thursday said that newly discovered documents from al Qaeda in Iraq revealed information that could destroy the terror network.

"We believe that this is the beginning of the end of al Qaeda in Iraq," said Iraq's national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, at a press conference in Baghdad.

He said the seized documentation indicates how al Qaeda is using virtually everyone as a pawn in its fight.

The group was planning to exacerbate already hostile tensions between Iran and the United States in order to climb out of a "bleak" situation in Iraq, according to documents al-Rubaie cited.

Such plans included the delivery of threatening messages attributed to Shiite Iranians and the carrying out of attacks under the guise of Iranian collusion, the Iraqi government cited the documents as saying.

Al Qaeda in Iraq also considered planting information that Iran has ties to terror groups, has been in possession of weapons of mass destruction, and is attempting to carry out terror operations in the West, the documents said, according to the Iraqi government.

CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the documents.

The documents were among computer records recovered from a tiny hard drive on terror mastermind al-Zarqawi's computer found at one of his safehouses, said the Iraqi government.

Caldwell said on Thursday the computer hard drive was recovered during an intense three-week operation prior to the June 7 airstrike that killed al-Zarqawi. He said the information from "some kind of computer asset" found in a safe house helped lead forces to al-Zarqawi's hiding place.

In a series of raids carried out since last week's fatal airstrike on al-Zarqawi, U.S. and Iraqi forces have detained 759 "anti-Iraqi elements" and killed over 104, Caldwell added. Of the 452 operations, 143 were conducted by Iraqi forces only, Caldwell said.

Bodies found

Despite a security crackdown in the capital, seven bullet-riddled bodies were found in various Baghdad neighborhoods on Thursday, police told CNN.

The bodies -- the latest corpses found dumped in the capital -- showed signs of torture and couldn't be immediately identified.

Dead bodies have been showing up across Baghdad almost daily since sectarian violence escalated in February.

In the southwest of the capital, gunmen killed a worker at a government-run vegetable oil factory on Thursday.

Other developments

  • The number of U.S. service members killed in Iraq has reached 2,500, the Pentagon announced on Thursday.
  • Also Thursday, gunmen stormed the Sunni al-Imam Muslim bin Aqil mosque north of Tikrit, killing four people and wounding 16 others, according to authorities.
  • A Marine corporal seen in a video singing about killing members of an Iraqi family says the song was a joke. "It's a song that I made up, and it was nothing more than something supposed to be funny, based off a catchy line of a movie," Cpl. Joshua Belile said in Wednesday's Daily News of Jacksonville.
  • CNN's Jennifer Z. Deaton, Mohammed Tawfeeq and John Vause contributed to this report.
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