A speaker claiming to be Abu Musab Zarqawi, the leader of an Al Qaeda-linked extremist group in Iraq, said in a statement heard Thursday over the Internet that one of his top lieutenants was killed last year in the U.S.-led assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallouja.
The speaker said Omar Hadid, who was in his 30s, was killed in November when U.S. and Iraqi forces recaptured the city. It was the first public report by the insurgents that Hadid was dead. It has been widely believed that Hadid fled the city as it was being attacked.
The statement said Hadid and a man identified as Abu Harith Mohammed Jasem Issawi had ignored advice that they leave during the battle. “They were martyred,” it said.
The authenticity of the tape could not immediately be verified.
Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda affiliate was blamed for kidnapping and beheading several foreigners, including Americans, before the fall of its base in Fallouja, about 35 miles west of Baghdad. The United States has offered a $25-million reward for Zarqawi’s capture or death.