The spiritual adviser and deputy to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi didn't know it, but he led U.S. and Iraqi intelligence officials directly to the terror leader's door during a visit he paid Zarqawi at a safehouse.
That brought about the Wednesday night airstrike that killed both men.
The Zarqawi deputy, Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Iraqi, was identified by intelligence officials at least two weeks ago with the cooperation of "somebody inside the al-Zarqawi network," said U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, speaking to reporters in Baghdad.
"Through a painstaking intelligence effort, we were able to start tracking him, monitor his movements and establish when he was doing his link-up with al-Zarqawi," said Caldwell. "Last night he made a link-up again at 6:15, at which time a decision was made to go ahead and strike that target and eliminate both of them."
The body of the notorious Al Qaeda ringmaster in Iraq — believed to be responsible for countless bombings, kidnappings and beheadings — was identified by fingerprints and facial recognition, the military said.
Zarqawi's death is unlikely to mean the end of the car bombings and other nearly daily violence in Iraq, and in fact will probably lead to at least a temporary spike. President George W. Bush on Thursday cautioned the American people that there would be tough days ahead and asked for their patience.
The Egyptian-born Abu al-Masri will likely succeed Zarqawi in the Al Qaeda-led insurgency, Caldwell told reporters.
The U.S. military showed a picture of Zarqawi's face after the strike that killed him. His eyes are closed, his face is pale save for a few small wounds, and bloodstains are under his head.
Caldwell showed reporters a videotape of the attack, in which U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets dropped two 500-pound precision guided bombs on the "isolated safehouse," he said. "We had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Zarqawi was in the house."
Even so, DNA testing will be conducted, he said.
"Zarqawi's body was then removed, brought back to a secure location," Caldwell said in the press briefing. "By visual identification it was established that that probably was him.
"But they ... did further examination of his body, found more scars and tattoos consistent with what had been reported and what we knew about him. They then did a fingerprint identification, and that came back ... this morning ... [and] positively identified Zarqawi as having been killed."
An Al Qaeda statement issued Thursday confirming Zarqawi's death and vowing to continue "holy war" was signed by al-Iraqi, with the title of deputy "emir" of Zarqawi's group "Al Qaeda in Iraq."
It was not known whether the name was put on the statement to suggest al-Iraqi, the Zarqawi deputy that led troops to the strike site, was still alive.
Caldwell and the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, had both told reporters that al-Iraqi was among those killed in the airstrike.
Casey also confirmed to reporters that tips and intelligence from senior leaders in Zarqawi's own network led American forces to him as he was meeting with some of his associates.
A Jordanian official said that Jordan also provided the U.S. military with information that helped in tracking Zarqawi down. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was addressing intelligence issues, would not elaborate, but Jordan is known to have intelligence agents operating in Iraq to hunt down Islamic militants.
Some of the information came from Jordan's sources inside Iraq and led the U.S. military to the area of Baqouba, the official said.
President Bush praised Special Operations Forces in Iraq for their work in gathering intelligence and nabbing Zarqawi.
Multiple sources have said that a unit called Task Force 145, which is in charge of hunting down premium targets like Zarqawi, was involved in the mission that brought down the Al Qaeda leader. Because of the top-secret nature of its work, little is known about 145's operations or its makeup — though some credible reports have said that there are four teams within 145, three American and one British.
Iraqi police were the first to arrive on-scene after the bombing. A total of 10 people — including Zarqawi and al-Iraqi — were killed in the strike, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the military said.
A woman and a child were among the dead, according to President Bush.
After the bombing, U.S. and Iraqi troops together conducted 17 raids in the Baghdad vicinity, according to Caldwell.
Bush called Zarqawi's death a "a severe blow to Al Qaeda and it is a significant victory in the war on terror."
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Zarqawi's death was "a strike against Al Qaeda in Iraq and therefore a strike against Al Qaeda everywhere," but added that the insurgency in Iraq would not immediately crumble.
"We know that they will continue to kill, we know that there are many, many obstacles to overcome," he said at his monthly news conference.
Zarqawi became Iraq's most wanted militant — as notorious as Usama bin Laden, to whom he swore allegiance in 2004. The United States put a $25 million bounty on Zarqawi, the same as bin Laden.
Zarqawi himself is believed to have wielded the knife in the beheadings of two of the Americans — Nicholas Berg and Eugene Armstrong — and earned himself the title of "the slaughtering sheik" among his supporters.
In the past year, he moved his campaign beyond Iraq's borders, claiming to have carried out a Nov. 9, 2005, triple suicide bombing against hotels in Amman, Jordan, that killed 60 people, as well as other attacks in Jordan and even a rocket attack from Lebanon into northern Israel.
U.S. forces and their allies came close to capturing Zarqawi several times since his campaign began in mid-2003.
His closest brush may have come in late 2004. Deputy Interior Ministry Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal said Iraqi security forces caught Zarqawi near the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah but then released him because they didn't realize who he was.
In May 2005, Web statements by his group said Zarqawi had been wounded in fighting with Americans and was being treated in a hospital abroad — raising speculation over a successor among his lieutenants. But days later, a statement said Zarqawi was fine and had returned to Iraq. There was never any independent confirmation of the reports of his wounding.
U.S. forces believe they just missed capturing Zarqawi in a Feb. 20, 2005 raid in which troops closed in on his vehicle west of Baghdad near the Euphrates River. His driver and another associate were captured and Zarqawi's computer was seized along with pistols and ammunition.
U.S. troops twice launched massive invasions of Fallujah, the stronghold used by Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters and other insurgents west of Baghdad. An April 2004 offensive left the city still in insurgent hands, but the October 2004 assault wrested it from them. However, Zarqawi — if he was in the city — escaped.
"Let there be no doubt the fact that he is dead is a significant victory in the battle against terrorism in that country and I would say worldwide," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said from Brussels where he was attending a NATO meeting.
FOX News' Catherine Donaldson-Evans, Sheffield Keith, Bret Baier and The Associated Press contributed to this report.