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(photo credit: AP)
Two Arab satellite television stations reported Thursday that the new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq may have been killed by US forces during a raid near Haditha, but American officials said they had no information about the reports.
Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, deputy Interior Minister in Iraq, told al-Arabiya TV in a phone call from Baghdad that officials were awaiting DNA tests to determine if a man killed in a recent raid was the new leader, Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
"We are not sure about al-Masri. There were other people who were killed in this US military operation. We are waiting for the DNA tests to be sure of the identity," Kamal said.
US military spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said a number of al-Qaida suspects were killed in a recent raid in western Anbar province and initially "we thought there was a possibility al-Masri was among them."
"As we did further analysis, we determined that it was highly unlikely that he was killed," Johnson told the Associated Press.
On Sunday, Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, told reporters US and Iraqi forces were closing in on al-Masri.
Al-Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, took over al-Qaida in Iraq after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed June 7 in a US air strike northeast of Baghdad.
US officials said al-Masri joined an extremist group led by al-Qaida's No.2 official in 1982. He joined al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan in 1999 and trained as a car-bombing expert before traveling to Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003.