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'Painstaking' operation led to al-Zarqawi

One tip came from al-Zarqawi's own terror network, military says
The U.S. military on Thursday displayed a photo of what it says is the body of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide



BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Betrayal inside his al Qaeda in Iraq terror group led to success in a painstaking U.S.-led operation to kill Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the U.S. military said on Thursday.

The most wanted man in Iraq died in a U.S. airstrike Wednesday evening when two 500-pound bombs slammed into a safe house near Baquba, according to U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell.

"Last night was the first time that we have had definitive, unquestionable information as to exactly where [al-Zarqawi] was located, knowing that we could strike that target without causing collateral damage to other Iraqi civilians and personnel in the area," Caldwell said. (Watch bombing run that killed al-Zarqawi -- 2:00)

In addition, Iraqi security and coalition forces conducted 17 simultaneous raids in and around Baghdad at the time of the attack, Caldwell said.

"A tremendous amount of information and intelligence was collected" from the raids, he said, "and is presently being exploited and utilized for further use. I mean, it was a treasure trove; no question."

Caldwell said Air Force F-16s dropped the bombs on the house, killing al-Zarqawi, 39, and five other people, including a key adviser, Sheik Abd-al-Rahman, and a woman and child. (Map of target)

Planning for the operation was "a very long, painstaking, deliberate exploitation of intelligence, information-gathering, human sources, electronic, signal intelligence that was done over a period of time -- many, many weeks," Caldwell said.

Rahman "was the spiritual adviser to Zarqawi," Caldwell said. "He was brought to our attention by somebody from within the network of Zarqawi's. For operational reasons, I probably can't specify exactly when."

Gen. George Casey, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, also credited the help of inside sources.

"Tips and intelligence from Iraqi senior leaders from his network led forces to al-Zarqawi and some of his associates, who were conducting a meeting," Casey said in a statement.

Following the attack on the safe house, Iraqi forces were the first on the scene, Caldwell said. (Watch how attacks turned nearby houses to heaps of cinder blocks --3:23)

Al-Zarqawi's body was taken to a secure location, visually identified by "scars and tattoos consistent with what had been reported and what we knew about him," and by fingerprints, Caldwell said. "We have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Zarqawi was in the house. It was 100 percent identification."

Even so, DNA testing will be conducted, he said.

In a statement from the White House, President Bush said al-Zarqawi's death will give Iraq a chance to "turn the tide" in the fight against the nation's insurgency.

"The ideology of terror has lost one of its most visible and aggressive leaders," Bush said. "Zarqawi's death is a severe blow to al Qaeda." (Chasing al Qaeda)

"Zarqawi personally beheaded American hostages and other civilians in Iraq," he said. "Now Zarqawi has met his end and this violent man will never murder again." (What made al-Zarqawi the most wanted man in Iraq)

The mood was jubilant in Iraq as U.S. and Iraqi officials first announced the news. (Watch the celebration following the announcement -- 4:31)

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the strike on al-Zarqawi was the "result of cooperation" with the citizenry, saying that authorities many times have asked civilians to provide information.

"Today, Zarqawi has been terminated," al-Maliki said. The announcement was greeted by cheers and applause.

"This is a message to all those who take violence as a path," he said.

Confirmation on Web sites

A Web site used by al Qaeda in Iraq confirmed al-Zarqawi's death and urged its followers to continue the insurgent fight. (Watch how al-Zarqawi's kin feel about his death -- :20)

Another Web site used by the group issued a statement: "People of Islam, God will not let our enemies celebrate and spread corruption in the ground. Expect the right that was stolen to come back to us and destroy the Crusaders" -- an apparent reference to U.S. troops in Iraq.

CNN could not verify the authenticity of the Web messages.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called al-Zarqawi's death "a very important moment in Iraq. A blow for al Qaeda in Iraq is a blow for al Qaeda everywhere." (Full story)

Officials cautioned, however, that al-Zarqawi's death would not mean an immediate end to violence in Iraq.

"The terrorist organization will continue to try to terrorize the Iraqi people," Casey said.

At least 37 Iraqis died in Baghdad bombings Thursday, even as the Iraqi parliament ended a stalemate by finally naming key security ministers. (Full story)

Al-Zarqawi was the leader of one of the nation's many insurgent factions. In October 2004, al-Zarqawi pledged his allegiance to al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, and renamed his group al Qaeda in Iraq. (Relief for bin Laden?)

Al-Zarqawi had a $25 million bounty on his head, led foreign and Iraqi fighters in dramatic and high-profile attacks against U.S. and Western targets and was seen as leader of one of the factions in Iraq that fomented sectarian strife between the Sunni and Shiite communities.

Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi was accused of terrorist links before the Iraq war and soon led the insurgency after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. (Watch how al-Zarqawi murdered his way to the most-wanted list -- 2:50)

Multiple attempts have been made to capture or kill him, and he was held briefly by Iraqi security forces in 2004 but was released because no one knew who he was.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre, Barbara Starr, Henry Schuster and journalist Randa Habib contributed to this report.

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