BAGHDAD: Al Qaeda in Iraq has confirmed the deaths of two top commanders a week after US and Iraqi authorities announced they had been killed, an intelligence monitoring agency has said.
Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Masri, who had direct links with Osama bin Laden, were killed in a shootout on April 18, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki saying a major threat to the nation's security had been removed.
US Vice President Joe Biden hailed the deaths as "potentially devastating blows to al Qaeda in Iraq".
The SITE Intelligence Group monitoring service said Saturday the Islamic State of Iraq, the al Qaeda front in the country, had confirmed the deaths of the two men in a statement on jihadist Internet forums.
"The ISI shariah minister, Abu al-Walid Abd al-Wahhab al-Mashadani, informed that both leaders were attending a meeting when enemy forces engaged them in battle and launched an airstrike on their location," SITE said. Mashadani praised the men.
"'If Allah fated that the two sheikhs be killed at this particular time, know that they left a unique generation behind, one that was raised before their eyes'," he said.
Maliki said last week that Baghdadi and Masri were killed in a raid on a safehouse as part of a major operation in which evidence was found that had foiled future attacks.
Forensic tests had confirmed their identities. General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, said in a statement that the killings were "potentially the most significant blow to al Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency."
At the height of Iraq's sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007, al Qaeda and other Sunni militant groups killed thousands of civilians when they bombed markets and mosques crowded with Shiite civilians.
Although overall levels of violence have fallen in the past two years, a series of massive suicide attacks in Baghdad, including several on government buildings, since last August has proven that al Qaeda remains a potent threat.
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