Web sites claim al-Zarqawi wounded
Pentagon and U.S. intelligence officials question authenticity
From Octavia Nasr and Jamie McIntyre
(CNN) -- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- the Jordanian-born insurgent leader in Iraq -- has been wounded, several Islamist militant Web sites reported Tuesday.
The message could not be independently verified.
In Washington one Pentagon official with access to military intelligence said, "We have no information that would confirm that he has been wounded or injured." The official added, "Nor have we seen anything that says he hasn't been. We just don't know."
Some Pentagon and U.S military officials find the claim doubtful, saying similar rumors in the past have never been confirmed.
The latest message is attributed to militant Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, who has posted messages from al Qaeda in Iraq before.
It said that al-Zarqawi's comrades are very proud of what they described as his heroic wounds. The message also threatened that the "resistance will get tougher" as U.S.-led attacks on insurgents intensify.
The message also asks for "prayers for our leader."
The author "doesn't go into the seriousness of the injuries," said Octavia Nasr, CNN's senior editor for Arab affairs, who analyzed the posting.
"He asks the brothers, as he calls them, to pray for his health and to pray that God will protect him. He does also say that they see this injury as an honor, a mark of honor and there was a little threat there in that message, threatening what they call the enemy -- that is, of course, the U.S. forces.
"If indeed there is an injury, the injury is serious enough for the group to be inclined to announce it publicly so that in case of death, it won't be a total shock."
The message "could be just a prelude to announcing something even more serious," Nasr said.
While the statement is similar to previous messages from al-Zarqawi's group, it doesn't bear the group's logo.
Al-Zarqawi's group has claimed responsibility for car bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq.
This month, the U.S. military said it had seized a letter from Iraqi insurgents believed to be intended for al-Zarqawi complaining about low morale among followers and weakening support for the insurgency. (Full story)
The United States has posted a $25 million reward for information leading to al-Zarqawi's capture. He's described as the most wanted man in Iraq. The reward has generated "a lot of tips and a lot of rumors of Zarqawi sightings," said Lt. Gen. James Conway, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Bush administration has identified al-Zarqawi as an al Qaeda terrorist who fled to Iraq from Afghanistan in May 2002 for medical treatment.
The U.S. military believes it "came close" to capturing him on February 20, when his car was stopped outside Ramadi. He is believed to have fled on foot, but his laptop computer, containing a "wealth of information," was recovered from the car, Pentagon sources said. (Full story)
Pentagon officials say al-Zarqawi is on the run and express confidence that he will be captured or killed in a matter of time.
Earlier this month U.S. troops went to a hospital in Ramadi after receiving a tip that "terrorists" had been treated. Some rumors suggested al-Zarqawi himself was ill or wounded and had sought treatment there.
"We came away empty-handed. We didn't find anyone or any confirmation that he was ever in the hospital," said a U.S. military official in Baghdad. "These rumors pop up regularly. We check them out when they seem credible."
According to the U.S. government, al-Zarqawi stayed in Iraq to organize terror plots with Ansar al-Islam, a radical Islamic group that operated a training camp in northern Iraq that came under the control of the U.S.-led coalition in the 2003 invasion.
Last year al-Zarqawi pledged his allegiance to Osama bin Laden, who later praised the insurgent's work against coalition troops in Iraq.