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Airstrike ends weeks of hunting for al-Zarqawi

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Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell shows reporters Thursday a photo of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi after he was killed.

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(CNN) -- Two 500-pound bombs ended the hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted insurgent in Iraq, and the man behind some of the grisliest terrorist attacks of the war.

U.S. Air Force F-16s launched an airstrike Wednesday on an isolated safe house north of Baquba, after coalition forces determined that he was inside, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell told reporters on Thursday.

"We had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Zarqawi was in the house. It was 100 percent confirmation," he said. (Watch the blasts that killed al-Zarqawi -- 2:00)

Iraqi police were the first forces on the scene, followed by troops from the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division, he said. Al-Zarqawi was dead when they arrived.

Caldwell said that five other people were killed in the strike, including al-Zarqawi's key lieutenant and spiritual adviser Sheik Abd-al-Rahman. (Watch how attacks turned nearby houses to heaps of cinder blocks --3:23)

Baquba is a volatile area northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province, a mixed Shiite-Sunni jurisdiction

Pentagon sources told CNN that U.S. Special Forces had tracked al-Zarqawi by following al-Rahman. President Bush also praised the Special Operations forces for their role in the mission.

Gen. William Casey, the top U.S. military leader in Iraq, said that "tips and intelligence from Iraqi senior leaders from his network," led coalition forces to al-Zarqawi. (Watch how al-Zarqawi's gun-toting video might have done him in -- 2:21)

Iraqi civilians in and around Baquba also provided tips, authorities said.

Caldwell said the operation had been going on for weeks.

"It truly was a very long, painstaking, deliberate exploitation of intelligence, information-gathering, human sources, electronic, signal intelligence that was done over a period of time -- many, many weeks -- that led us last night to that target," he said.

Caldwell said they had been focusing on al-Rahman for about a month-and-a-half.

Once they confirmed al-Zarqawi's death, coalition forces launched 17 simultaneous raids in and around Baghdad.

Caldwell said the coalition identified the targets during the search, but did not raid them sooner because they were focused on al-Zarqawi.

"In those 17 raids last night, a tremendous amount of information and intelligence was collected and is presently being exploited and utilized for further use," he said. "I mean, it was a treasure trove; no question."

Al-Zarqawi's network was blamed for beheadings and attacks, including the 2003 suicide bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that killed Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. envoy to Iraq, and 21 other people.

Another dramatic attack occurred in November, when a triple suicide bombing against hotels in Amman, Jordan, killed 60 people.

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