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(photo credit: (AP / via IntelCenter))
US President George W. Bush warned Thursday that Al-Qaida remains a grave threat despite the killing of its leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
"The difficult and necessary mission in Iraq continues," the president said, describing Wednesday's killing of Zarqawi as a severe blow to al-Qaida and a "significant victory in the war on terror... We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him. We can expect the sectarian violence to continue."
Bush was proved correct as dozens of people were killed and wounded on Thursday in attacks on shoppers and policemen.
US officials said at a press conference in Baghdad that the man they expected would now carry Zarqawi's battle forward against the new Iraqi regime would likely be Egyptian-born Abu al-Masri.
Hamas, meanwhile, for the first time expressed support for Al-Qaida and its "martyred" leader.
"With hearts full of faith, Hamas commends brother-fighter Abu Musab... who was martyred at the hands of the savage crusade campaign which targets the Arab homeland, starting in Iraq," the statement said, adding it mourned the Jordanian-born terrorist's death as a "martyr of the [Muslim Arab] nation."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday evening spoke with Bush and commended him on the successful action. The prime minister said that it was an example of the way in which terrorism must be fought, adding that the determination and leadership shown by Bush are the only way to defeat terrorism. Bush thanked Olmert for the support.
Zarqawi supporters mourned his death with eulogies and expressed hatred for his enemies on Islamist Web sites, cursing "the Crusaders [Christian West], the Zionists, and the Rafidha
[a derogatory term for Shi'ites]."
Many Jordanians rejoiced over the death of Zarqawi whose group took responsibility for a triple-bombing of hotels in Amman last November.
"Finally, God's justice prevailed and we feel some relief," said Ashraf al-Akhras, who lost his father and 16 members of his family in the attack.
The attacks sparked outrage among Jordanians, many of whom had previously supported Zarqawi's fight against the Iraqi government and US-led coalition forces in Iraq. Zarqawi's group had also vowed future attacks against Jordan because the country is a US-ally, a friend of Israel, King Abdullah II has criticized extremist Islamist groups and imprisoned Jordanians for fighting against the Americans in Iraq.
A young Palestinian-Jordanian waiter in Amman told The Jerusalem Post
he had mixed emotions upon hearing of Zarqawi's demise. "I'm happy because he killed so many Iraqis and Jordanians, but I'm also sad that he was killed," said Yassin. "He was not really the cause of the problems. He is just an outcome. The source of the problem is the Arab regimes."
But in Iraq many felt indifferent.
"No one is talking about it," said Muhammad, a young educated Iraqi living in Baghdad. "So many people are being killed here. The Americans are also killing. There are many Zarqawis. One enemy is gone but there are still another million enemies to the Iraqi people. There is no trust among people. People are scared to curse anyone. You don't know who is the man in front of you, to which militia he belongs. Your family members are the only people you can rely on now."
Long wanted for attacks on US forces and the slaughter of Shi'ites in Iraq, Zarqawi was killed in an evening raid Wednesday near Baquba, north of Baghdad, in what Bush described as "a severe blow to al-Qaida."
Zarqawi was killed at 6:15 when US planes dropped two 230-kg. bombs on a building where he was meeting with his associates. His fingerprints were used later to identify his body. The targeted attack was the result of Jordanian intelligence and a combination of tips from within Zarqawi's organization and.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the news on Thursday, telling a news conference in Baghdad: "We have eliminated Zarqawi."
Zarqawi was a Jordanian citizen born to Palestinian parents in the Jordanian city of Zarqa. His real name was Ahmed Fadhil Nazzal al-Khalayleh; his nickname came from his birthplace. He became involved in crime at a young age but later turned to religion, then to terror.
Like Osama bin Laden, Zarqawi's terrorist career began in Afghanistan during the 1970s when he fought against the Russians. One Jordanian official told the Post
that Zarqawi was an inadvertent US creation.
"When the US encouraged mosques in the Arab world to call for Muslims to make jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviets, Zarqawi listened and went," said the official. "Like so many others, he returned years later, trained, unemployed and looking for a fight."
Members of Zarqawi's family mourned his death in his hometown even though they had previously disowned him.
"We hope that he will join other martyrs in heaven," his brother, Sayel al-Khalayleh, said. Khalayleh was one of 57 family members who signed a newspaper ad to disavow Zarqawi after the suicide bombings in Amman last November that killed 63 people.
AP contributed to this report.