Bombmaker for Zarqawi killed in battle with U.S. forces

Thursday, February 26, 2004

BAGHDAD The U.S. military has killed a key aide to Ansar Al Islam leader Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi, regarded as the most lethal insurgent in Iraq.

Ansar Al Islam leader Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi (left) and slain aide, Abu Mohammed Hamza AP/AFP

U.S. officials said Abu Mohammed Hamza was killed in a clash with U.S. troops in Habaniyah north of Baghdad on Thursday. Hamza, who was carrying a Jordanian passport, was identified as the chief bombmaker for Al Zarqawi and believed responsible for a series of suicide car bombings.

Hamza, 31, was later identified as a Yemeni national who acquired a forged Jordanian passport and even served in Jordan's military, Middle East Newsline reported. A family member told the London-based Al Hayat daily on Wednesday that Hamza left Jordan in 1999 for Syria and Turkey. Hamza then settled in Iraq, where he joined Ansar and rose to become an aide to Al Zarqawi.

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of coalition military operations, said troops also found materials for the production of bombs, electronic equipment and pictures of Al Zarqawi in Hamza's safehouse.

Kimmitt said Hamza, also known as Nidal Arabiyat Abu Hamza, was not an Ansar member.

"While assessed as a blow to the Zarqawi network, he and his group remain a threat to the security and stability of Iraq," Kimmitt said on Tuesday. "But as we've seen with Zarqawi and some of his associates, they have an affiliation with different terrorist groups, but I don't think we would consider Abu Mohammed Hamza a card-carrying member of Ansar Al Islam."

Officials said Al Zarqawi and his associates have tried to recruit a range of Sunni insurgency organizations and former Fedayeen forces into an anti-coalition network. They said Al Zarqawi does not have a large infrastructure in Iraq.

In a related development, the U.S. military reported the capture of a former Baath Party security chief believed to have financed insurgency attacks in the Sunni Triangle. The military said Shahab Awas, the Saddam loyalist who was captured in Baqouba has been an associate of Saddam's chief aide Izzat Ibrahim Al Douri. Awas was said to have financed a cell composed of members of the former Fedayeen Saddam militia in Baqouba.

Another Al Douri associate, Hamid Nouri, was also arrested. Nouri was captured in Mosul without incident.

In Washington, the U.S. intelligence community has warned that Iraq could become the next training ground for Islamic insurgency groups inspired by Al Qaida. Defense Intelligence Agency director Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that the north and south of Iraqi remain quiet while the central region has been the scene of most anti-coalition attacks.

The DIA director said Kurds in northern Iraq have created a quasi-autonomous state. He said the Shi'ite population in southern Iraq continued to support the U.S. coalition and battle former elements of the Saddam regime.

"However, the situation could become volatile," Jacoby said. "Shia backing for the coalition is based largely on expectations that a political structure based on an elected representative government serves their interests."

Jacoby said the number of insurgency attacks has declined since November 2003 as the Sunni population remains undecided over whether to support the coalition or Saddam loyalists. But the intelligence chief said foreign Muslim volunteers have emerged as a threat to Iraqi stability.

"Fighters from numerous countries are reported to have entered Iraq," Jacoby said. "They are motivated by Arab nationalism, extremist religious ideology and/or resentment of U.S. policies and beliefs. Most are assessed to be linked to groups that hope to gain notoriety and increased support by conducting attacks in Iraq."

In Washington, the Treasury Department has added an Al Qaida loyalist to the U.S. list of people suspected of supporting activities deemed terrorist.

Yemeni national Abdul Majid Al Zindani was identified as one of Osama Bin Laden's spiritual leaders as well as a recruiter and procurer of weapons. Under the designation, the department will freeze any financial assets belonging to Al Zindani found in the United States.

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