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How They Killed Him

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Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence operatives gave the special-ops task force a tantalizing lead. For nearly a month, the commandos had monitored every move of Abdul-Rahman, the spiritual adviser, whose locations had been revealed by an al-Qaeda operative captured in May near the Iraq-Jordan border. When Abdul-Rahman surfaced near Baqubah last week--apparently in the same location as the Jordanians' Mr. X--the commandos moved in for the kill. "We had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Zarqawi was in the house," Army Major General William Caldwell told reporters in Baghdad the day after the strike. The Jordanian security official told TIME that the bombing killed Abdul-Rahman and Mr. X, in addition to al-Zarqawi's 16-year-old wife.

Remarkably, al-Zarqawi apparently survived the attack, at least for a short while. Iraqi police, Iraqi security forces and military helicopters bearing U.S. soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division swarmed over the safe house immediately after the strike. Iraqi police, Caldwell said, were the first on the scene, and they put al-Zarqawi onto a stretcher. A special-ops exploitation team trained to glean intelligence from raids arrived with photos, fingerprint smudges and descriptions of the scars and tattoos on his body, much of which had been supplied by Jordanian intelligence. As the team began examining him, according to Caldwell, al-Zarqawi muttered something and tried to "turn away off the stretcher." He was quickly "resecured" and died of his wounds shortly thereafter. After investigators on the scene positively identified him, word reached Pentagon officials as they awoke Thursday in Washington. "It's been a long, long effort," says one. "But we finally got the bastard."

In the wake of the attack, says the Jordanian security official, members of al-Zarqawi's organization in Iraq launched a series of interrogations in search of those who sold out their leader, leading Jordanian officials to hope that the hit is already causing dissension in jihadist ranks. U.S. intelligence officials believe al-Qaeda in Iraq is likely to name a successor soon, and the Bush Administration was careful to point out that the insurgency will outlive al-Zarqawi. But no one who comes next will have his twisted star power, at least not for a while. "The violence is not only al-Qaeda," says the Jordanian security official. "But this weakens one important link. It's a warning to all these groups that they are not immune. If we can get Zarqawi, we can get you too." [The following descriptive text appears within A diagram] The Strike

Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi had eluded U.S. forces for years. A special team of intelligence operatives was tracking his spiritual adviser, hoping for a break.

Then they learned the two were going to meet Wednesday afternoon THE HOUSE

A small Delta Force team of perhaps half a dozen, together with a handful of Iraqi security personnel, watches the house and confirms that al-Zarqawi and Sheik Abdul-Rahman, his adviser, are inside

6:12 p.m. TWO EXPLOSIONS

With darkness approaching and lacking enough forces to storm the house, the surveillance team calls for an air strike. Two Air Force F-16 fighters respond. One drops two precision bombs

Evening POSITIVE IDENTIFICATION

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Cover Package: The Death of Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi
  • Cover Story: After Zarqawi: A Drawdown of Troops? The killing of al-Zarqawi deals a blow to al-Qaeda and gives the White House a much-needed dose of good news from Iraq. But the insurgency is not dead, which still leaves open the question of when the U.S. can start bringing the troops home
  • Zarqawi's Last Dinner Party As Delta Force commandos hid in a grove of trees outside, they feared the al-Qaeda leader would slip away one last time. Exclusive new details on how they finally got him
  • The Apostle Of Hate By turning Iraq into a jihadist proving ground, al-Zarqawi eclipsed Osama bin Laden and stoked a war within Islam. Why his ideas will haunt the world long after he's gone
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Table of Contents
Jun. 19, 2006
  • The Death of Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi
  •  
  • Cover Story: After Zarqawi: A Drawdown of Troops? The killing of al-Zarqawi deals a blow to al-Qaeda and gives the White House a much-needed dose of good news from Iraq. But the insurgency is not dead, which still leaves open the question of when the U.S. can start bringing the troops home
  •  
  • Zarqawi's Last Dinner Party As Delta Force commandos hid in a grove of trees outside, they feared the al-Qaeda leader would slip away one last time. Exclusive new details on how they finally got him
  •  
  • The Apostle Of Hate By turning Iraq into a jihadist proving ground, al-Zarqawi eclipsed Osama bin Laden and stoked a war within Islam. Why his ideas will haunt the world long after he's gone
  •  
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Apr. 8, 1966

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