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Suspected Saudi terrorist reportedly killed in Iraq

Cleric was 24th on kingdom's most-wanted list

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- One of Saudi Arabia's most-wanted terrorist suspects was killed recently in battle with U.S. troops in Iraq near the Syrian border, according to a statement on an Islamist Web site Thursday.

The posting said that Abdullah al-Rashoud "responded to God's call and rushed toward paradise," being "martyred" near Qaim. It was signed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Al-Rashoud, a cleric, was 24th on Saudi Arabia's list of most-wanted suspected terrorists. If he is dead, then all but two of 26 on the list have been killed or captured, said Gen. Mansour Turki, a Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman.

The development comes after U.S. and Iraqi forces concluded Operation Spear this week in Karabila near Qaim.

The offensive was one of two recent operations seeking to destroy havens for insurgents and foreign fighters near the Iraqi-Syrian border in the sprawling, violence-wracked Anbar province.

About 1,000 troops -- including U.S. Marines and sailors and Iraqi soldiers -- took part in Operation Spear. (Full story)

U.S. Marine intelligence officer Capt. Thomas Sibley said he had no knowledge of al-Rashoud being among fighters killed in the operation.

"[It's] possible that this individual was killed either during the fighting in Operation Spear or during pre-operation airstrikes," Sibley said.

He said intelligence reports indicated a significant number of foreign fighters were among about 50 insurgents killed in Karabila. Previous airstrikes on houses in the city killed about 40 insurgents, including foreign fighters, the Marines said.

Documents found in safe houses as the Marines swept through Karabila over the weekend included Saudi, Libyan, Algerian, Sudanese and Tunisian passports, the Marines said. The passports indicated all had come through the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Al-Zarqawi's statement said al-Rashoud entered Iraq about 45 days ago "aiming to support and lift up his faith and religion."

Turki said the report of al-Rashoud's death in Iraq is evidence that the Saudi crackdown on terrorism has forced al Qaeda to try to implement its plans elsewhere.

Jordanian-born insurgent leader Al-Zarqawi pledged his allegiance to Osama bin Laden in October. The United States has put a $25 million bounty on his capture or death. He is wanted for fueling the insurgency in Iraq and in connection with the beheadings of Western hostages as well as Iraqis and other civilians.

In March 2004, Jordan sentenced al-Zarqawi in absentia to 15 years in jail for a plot to attack the country's embassy in Iraq.

It was al-Zarqawi's second such sentence in Jordan; he also was sentenced to death for killing a U.S. diplomat in Amman.

CNN's Jane Arraf and Caroline Faraj contributed to this report.

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