CAIRO, Egypt – One of Saudi Arabia's most-wanted suspected terrorists was killed by an airstrike during fighting with U.S. and Iraqi forces in northwest Iraq, the leader of the Al Qaeda in Iraq (search) group said in a Web statement posted Thursday.
Abdullah Mohammed Rashid al-Roshoud (search) had been No. 24 on a list of the 26 most-wanted terrorist leaders put out by Saudi Arabia two years ago and was one of only three militants on the list still at large.
The Web posting, the authenticity of which could not be confirmed, said he slipped into Iraq (search) in April.
Al-Roshoud was killed in fighting near the town of Qaim, on the border with Syria, said the statement, signed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most notorious terror leader in Iraq. U.S. forces have launched a series of offensives near Qaim in past weeks against militants slipping into Iraq.
The Saudi militant "was participating in the battles of Qaim ... when the Crusader forces tried to descend on the area," the site said. Al-Roshoud and a group of mujahedeen fought back "and killed some of the Crusaders until the enemies of God had to withdraw."
"When the Crusaders could not enter the area, the only thing they could do was bombard the mujahedeen with warplanes," it said. "Our sheik [al-Roshoud] got what he wished" — martyrdom.
The Al Qaeda in Iraq statement was posted on an Islamic militant Web forum by Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, the group's media chief, who usually posts messages from the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi.
Al-Roshoud was one of the main theologians for Al Qaeda's network in Saudi Arabia, calling for a holy war against the Saudi royal family and Western interests in the Persian Gulf. He was known as the network's mufti, the authority that issues religious opinions including justifications for jihad. He studied at the Imam University in Riyadh, one of the strongholds of the Saudi radicals.
"If [the report of his death] is true, then this is another big fish that has disappeared," Mishari al-Dhaidi, a Saudi expert on Islamic radical groups, told The Associated Press.
Al-Roshoud was reported killed in July 2004 clashes in Saudi Arabia, but Saudi officials quickly denied the report and said he was still at large.
Saudi Arabia has been cracking down on Al Qaeda-linked militants on its soil ever since a series of deadly attacks on foreigners in the kingdom in early 2003. Twenty-three of the 26 militant leader on its initial most-wanted list have been confirmed killed or captured. Saudi officials acknowledge others have taken their place in the cells' ranks, but they insist they have broken the backs of the cells.
At the same time, Saudi fundamentalists have played a major role in the front lines of the insurgency in Iraq, slipping into the country to join al-Zarqawi's and other groups fighting U.S. troops and their allies.
Middle East terrorism experts have estimated there are some 2,500 Saudis fighting in Iraq. Lists of "martyrs" posted on militant Web sites show the largest number come from Saudi Arabia, although the lists' authenticity can't be confirmed.