CAIRO, Egypt – One of Saudi Arabia’s most wanted terror suspects was killed by an airstrike during fighting with U.S. and Iraqi forces in northwest
Iraq, the leader of the al-Qaida in Iraq group said in a Web statement posted Thursday.
Abdullah al-Rashoud had been No. 24 out of a list of the top 26 most wanted terror leaders put out by Saudi Arabia two years ago and was one of only three militants on the list still at large.
The Web posting, the authenticity of which could not be confirmed, said he slipped into Iraq in April.
Al-Rashoud was killed in fighting near the town of Qaim, on the border with
Syria, said the statement, signed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most notorious terror leader in Iraq. U.S. forces have launched a series of offensives near Qaim in past weeks against militants slipping into Iraq.
The Saudi militant “was participating in the battles of Qaim … when the Crusader forces tried to descend on the area.” Al-Rashoud and a group of mujahedeen fought back “and killed some of the Crusaders until the enemies of God had to withdraw.”
“When the Crusaders could not enter the area, the only thing they could do was bombard the mujahedeen with warplanes,” it said. “Our sheik (al-Rashoud) got what he wished” — martyrdom.
The al-Qaida in Iraq statement was posted on an Islamic militant Web forum by Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, the group’s media chief, who usually posts messages from the Jordanian-born militant al-Zarqawi.
Al Rashud was believed to have been one of the main theologians for al-Qaida’s network in Saudi Arabia and was known as its mufti, the authority that issues religious opinions including justifications for the group’s activities. He studied at the Imam University in Riyadh, one of the strongholds of the Saudi radicals.
Saudi Arabia has been cracking down on al-Qaida-linked militants on its soil ever since a series of deadly attacks on foreigners in the kingdom in early 2003. Twenty-three of the 26 militant leader on its initial most wanted list have been confirmed killed or captured. Saudi officials acknowledge others have taken their place in the cells’ ranks, but they insist they have broken the backs of the cells.
At the same time, Saudi fundamentalists have played a major role in the front lines of the insurgency in Iraq, slipping into the country to join al-Zarqawi’s and other groups fighting U.S. troops and their allies. Lists of “martyrs” posted on militant Web sites show the largest number come from Saudi Arabia, though the lists’ authenticity can’t be confirmed.