BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials have received reports that the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq was killed by Sunni tribesmen, but the chief government spokesman said Tuesday the information has not been confirmed.
The statement by spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh followed a welter of reports from other Iraqi officials that Abu Ayyub al-Masri had been killed. Iraqi officials have released similar reports in the past, only to acknowledge later they were inaccurate.
U.S. officials said they could not confirm the reported death.
Al-Dabbagh told Al-Arabiya that word of al-Masri’s purported death was based on “intelligence information,” adding that “DNA tests should be done and we have to bring someone to identify the body.”
But he refused to say unequivocally whether Iraqi security forces have the body, citing security restrictions. Accounts were vague about when and where al-Masri supposedly died.
“We will make an official announcement when we confirm that this person is Abu Ayyub al-Masri,” he said. “The Iraqi government will work to identify him.”
U.S. spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said the U.S. command was looking into the reports.
“Obviously I hope it’s true,” Garver said, pointing out that previous Iraqi claims had proven false. “We want to be very careful before we confirm or deny anything like that.”
Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh told The Associated Press that al-Masri was believed to have been killed Monday in the Taji area north of Baghdad.
“Preliminary reports said he was killed yesterday in Taji area in a battle involving a couple of insurgent groups, possibly some tribal people who have problems with Al Qaeda. These reports have to be confirmed.”
Tribesmen in the western Anbar province have been fighting Al Qaeda for weeks and claim to have killed dozens of them.
Al-Masri, an Egyptian militant also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, took over leadership of the terror network and was endorsed by Usama bin Laden after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed last June in a U.S. airstrike in Diyala province.