Military: Key al-Qaida in Iraq figure dead
ARLINGTON, Va. — A high-level al-Qaida operative responsible for bringing foreign terrorists into Iraq and allegedly for masterminding the kidnapping of two U.S. soldiers there last June is dead, a senior U.S. military official said Friday.
Abu Usama al-Tunisi, a Tunisian-born terrorist killed by U.S. troops Tuesday, was “arguably one of the most important foreign leaders within al-Qaida in Iraq,” Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, chief of staff for Multi-National Corps-Iraq, said Friday.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters from Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Anderson said that Tunisi was “in the top tier” of al-Qaida in Iraq’s leadership, reporting directly to Ayyub al-Masri, the group’s leader.
Tunisi may even have been a possible successor to Masri, Anderson said.
His job was to oversee the influx of foreign fighters into Iraq, which until recently numbered about 60 to 80 per month, Anderson said.
The foreign terrorists are of particular concern to U.S. military leaders in Iraq, Anderson said, because they tend to be responsible for carrying out the most spectacular attacks of all: suicide bombings.
Intelligence analysts believe that 80 percent of all suicide attacks in Iraq have been conducted by foreigners, Anderson said.
Anderson said Tunisi also was responsible for the kidnapping of two American soldiers June 16, 2006, who were taken during an attack on their checkpoint in a Sunni district south of Baghdad.
Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore., were found dead three days later near a power plant in the town of Yusufiya, near where they went missing.
The operation that resulted in Tunisi’s death was the sixth in a chain of fast-moving missions that began in southern Baghdad on Sept. 12, with the detention of five suspected al-Qaida members, Anderson said.
On Tuesday, U.S. troops moved to a suspected terrorist lair south of Musayyib, where Tunisi and a group of al-Qaida operatives were holed up among farm fields and palm groves.
The troops called in an F-16, which hit the building with a missile at 11:28 a.m. local time, according to gunship camera tape of the strike shown to reporters.
Tunisi died in the strike, along with four others. Eight more suspects were taken into custody, Anderson said.
Among the items U.S. troops later found on the site was a handwritten note from Tunisi, Anderson said.
The note, also shown to reporters, was neatly written in Arabic in pencil, double-spaced, on the kind of lined notepaper schoolchildren use worldwide.
Translated into English, it appeared to be a plea to the al-Qaida network, noted that he was trapped and that his communications had been cut off.
“I have been surrounded in Al Awisat for two and a half months because the road has been closed by the Apostate (U.S. troops), and there is no other way,” the letter said. “I have tried many times to send letters thru the Brothers to our Father (probably Ayyub al-Masri), God save him, but I have not received anything.
“We are so desperate for your help.”