BAGHDAD — A suspected terrorist killed by American troops in a raid earlier this month has been identified as al Qaida in Iraq's No. 2 leader, the U.S. military said Wednesday.
Abu Qaswarah, also known as Abu Sara, died Oct. 5 in the northern city of Mosul during a firefight between suspected al Qaida members and American soldiers raiding a building where they believed Qaswarah was hiding.
Qaswarah, a native of Morocco, trained in Afghanistan and rose to become al Qaida in Iraq's top northern commander, a U.S. military statement said.
American officials described him as a charismatic leader who managed to rally al Qaida's northern network despite recent security gains across Iraq. Qaswarah was especially adept at recruiting and inspiring new fighters from abroad, the military said.
He is believed to have overseen a failed attempt to destroy the Mosul Civic Center last month.
Military officials said his death deals a major blow to al Qaida's operations in northern Iraq, an area that has seen a recent uptick in violence, particularly against the area's Christian population.
"Abu Qaswarah is another example of how al Qaida in Iraq has been forced to rely on foreign terrorists to carry out their vicious attacks on the Iraqi people as well as coalition and Iraqi forces," said Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, a U.S. military spokesman. "The Iraqi people do not want them here, and coalition and Iraqi forces will continue to work together to weed them out of the country."
Qaswarah had been a senior al Qaida emir since June 2007, military officials said, adding that he had "historic ties to al Qaida in Iraq founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and senior al Qaida leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan." He reportedly has killed foreign recruits who came to Iraq and later tried to return home.
Violence has dropped dramatically across the country in recent months, but attacks still are occurring. Though military officials have said many of al Qaida's top leaders are either dead or in custody, they also have warned that the terrorist network could be regrouping in Iraq.
"We have been eager since 2007 to target the brains of al Qaida, and this is a good step," said Mohammed al Askari, a spokesman for the Iraqi Defense Ministry. "We believe this will minimize their actions because they are losing communication and organization."
Four other suspected al Qaida members died in the raid that killed Qaswarah, the military said.
Wednesday's statement marked the third time that that U.S. or Iraqi officials have announced the capture or killing of a "No. 2" leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. In September 2006, Iraqi authorities announced the capture of Hamed Jumaa Farid al-Saeedi, known as Abu Humam or Abu Rana, describing him as al Qaeda in Iraq's No. 2 leader.
One year earlier, U.S. and Iraqi officials announce that they had killed al Qaeda in Iraq's No. 2 leader, Abdallah Najim Abdallah Mohammed al-Juwari, known as Abu Azzam.
(Reilly reports for the Merced, Calif., Sun-Star. Kadhim is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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