The U.S. sought Monday to quell rampant rumors that al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi might have been beaten to death or shot by U.S. forces after they bombed his hideout on Wednesday. Colonel Steve Jones, the command surgeon for Multinational Forces, said an autopsy concluded that al-Zarqawi died of massive injuries to his lungs consistent with those caused by a bomb blast. He survived for 52 minutes following the bombing raid on his secluded hideout in Baquba.
The FBI also announced that they had positively identified the remains found in the wreckage as those of al-Zarqawi, according to CNN. U.S. forces dropped two 500-pound bombs on the buildings in which al-Zarqawi was meeting with seven others killed in the incident (see "Iraq's Most Wanted Terrorist, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, Killed In Air Strike"). When ground forces arrived on the scene 28 minutes after the bombing, medics secured the terrorist leader's airway, but his breathing was shallow and labored and he was spitting up blood from his mouth, Caldwell said.
"It was very evident he had extremely massive internal injuries," military spokesperson Major General William Caldwell said during a briefing. Al-Zarqawi died 24 minutes after coalition forces arrived, he said. "Blast waves from the two bombs caused tearing, bruising of the lungs and bleeding," Jones explained. "There was no evidence of firearm injuries." Al-Zarqawi also suffered head and facial wounds, bleeding in his ears and a fracture of his lower right leg, CNN reports.
Following battlefield protocol, coalition medics attended to al-Zarqawi when they found him severely injured in the flattened building in the middle of a palm grove, but he lapsed in and out of consciousness and they were unable to revive him.
Caldwell said the autopsies were done in order to pin down a definitive cause of death for al-Zarqawi and his spiritual leader, Sheik Abdul-Rahman, who was instantly killed in the airstrike. "The scientific facts provide irrefutable evidence" that "will serve to counter speculation, misinformation and propaganda," he said, according to CNN.
The final information on al-Zarqawi's death came after U.S. forces changed their initial description of the demise of Iraq's most wanted man. The military originally announced that al-Zarqawi had been killed in the bombing, giving no indication that he had survived the blast at all. Despite being hit with 1,000 pounds worth of explosives — which left a crater 45-feet deep, CNN reports — al-Zarqawi's face looked relatively uninjured in the photos released by the military announcing the strike, which stirred rumors of a conspiracy in the Iraqi media. Speculation ranged from suggestions that al-Zarqawi had actually been killed earlier and that the military waited to parade his body until the announcement of the new Iraqi defense minister on Wednesday, to stories that he survived the attack but was beaten and shot to death by coalition forces.
"Were there any gunshot wounds to his body? No, there were not," Caldwell said. A man interviewed by The Associated Press and The Washington Post said that he saw American soldiers beating al-Zarqawi once they arrived on the scene.
"He was still alive. We put him in the ambulance, but when the Americans arrived they took him out of the ambulance, they beat him on his stomach ... then they stomped on his stomach and his chest until he died and blood came out of his nose," the AP quoted the man, identified only as Mohammed, as saying.
More war on terror news:
- Al Qaeda in Iraq vowed on Sunday to carry out "major attacks," insisting that despite al-Zarqawi's death, it is still a force to be reckoned with, the AP reports. In an Internet posting that could not be independently confirmed, the group's leadership said it "renews its allegiance" with Osama bin Laden and that the world's most-wanted terrorist will "see things that will bring joy to his heart," vowing to "prepare major attacks that will shake the enemy like an earthquake and rattle them out of sleep."
- The simultaneous suicides of three detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp over the weekend increased calls for the shuttering of the detention facility for terror suspects. The men, two Saudis and a Yemeni, were found hanging from nooses made of bed sheets in their cells early Saturday. U.S. officials argued that the suicides were political acts aimed at hurting American standing in the world, while human-rights activists and former detainees said that after three years in captivity, desperate prisoners see suicide as the only way out even though Islam forbids it, according to the AP. The three suicides were the first deaths at the camp, where the U.S. began taking detainees in 2002; only 10 of the 460 people being held have been charged with crimes to date.