U.S. soldiers killed the alleged No. 2 leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, a Moroccan who trained in Afghanistan, recruited foreign fighters and ran operations in northern Iraq where Sunni insurgents remain a potent threat, the U.S. military said Wednesday.
The man, who the military said was known as Abu Qaswarah, died Oct. 5 during a raid on a building in the northern city of Mosul that served as a major “command and control location” for the region. Four other insurgents were killed in the operation, the U.S. said.
The announcement of Abu Qaswarah's death was withheld until Wednesday to allow for identification, the military said.
U.S. officials described Abu Qaswarah, also known as Abu Sara, as a charismatic figure who had rallied al-Qaida's network in the north after the movement suffered major setbacks in Baghdad and other former strongholds.
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The Swedish news agency TT reported that the man was also a Swedish citizen. Swedish officials confirmed that a Moroccan Swede suspected of having ties to al-Qaida was killed in early October and that he was on the U.N. and the EU terror watch lists. They declined to elaborate and it was unclear whether the Swede may have been among the four others killed.
The death of such a senior al-Qaida leader will cause a major disruption to the terror network, particularly in northern Iraq, where the movement remains active, the military said.
“It's going to be much more difficult for the factions left in that area to network and operate among themselves,” U.S. spokesman Brig. Gen. David Perkins said. “It allows the Iraqi security forces with the support of the coalition to go in and continue to tear apart that network.”
U.S. military officials said Abu Qaswarah, whose real name was unavailable, was a key figure in the al-Qaida network with ties to the movement's global leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he trained.
That suggested that many of al-Qaida in Iraq's key leaders have remained in the country despite recent reports that many foreign fighters had fled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where fighting has been on the rise.