BAGHDAD, Iraq – Flush with intelligence, the U.S. military moved quickly Friday to take advantage of the power vacuum left by the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, carrying out nearly 40 raids in an effort to stop his terror network from regrouping.
A U.S. military search of the destroyed safehouse where the Al Qaeda in Iraq leader was killed Wednesday yielded documents and information storage devices that are being assessed for potential use against his followers, a military officer said.
An M-16 rifle, grenades and AK-47 rifles also were found, according to the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because results from the search have not been announced. The U.S.-made M-16 was fitted with special optics.
They also found documents and unspecified "media," which the officer indicated normally means information storage devices such as computer hard drives and digital cameras or other data storage devices.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said 39 raids were conducted across Iraq late Thursday and early Friday, including some directly related to the information they obtained from the strike against Zarqawi. Those were in addition to 17 raids carried out immediately after the terror leader was killed.
Caldwell displayed digital photographs of recovered items that he said included a suicide belt, a flak vest, passports and identification cards, vehicle license plates, ammunition belts, rifles and other guns and a night-vision device. He said they were found under the floorboards of a building; he did not identify the location, except to say it was in and around Baghdad.
He said at least 24 people had been detained and one person killed in the raids.
In Ghalbiyah, near where Zarqawi was killed, five civilians were killed and three were wounded in a firefight. The circumstances of their deaths were unclear.
AP Television News video footage showed a destroyed house, while another house had bullet holes on the wall and burned furniture inside.
The military also revealed that Zarqawi was alive after two 500-pound bombs were dropped on his hideout, though he could barely speak.
"He mumbled something, but it was indistinguishable and it was very short," Caldwell said, adding that Zarqawi tried to get away after being placed on a stretcher by Iraqi police.
Caldwell said it was possible that Zarqawi was not inside the safehouse when it was attacked, a scenario which might explain why only he among six people killed in the raid initially survived the bombing.
Asked whether Zarqawi was shot after U.S. ground troops arrived at the scene, Caldwell said he could not give a definitive answer.
An official in the Iraqi prime minister's office confirmed that the Iraqi forces arrived first, followed by the Americans. "I think our announcement was very clear yesterday and we don't have anything to add," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, a Shiite who was named to the key security post Thursday, said al-Zarqawi's death came after a painstaking effort to collect accurate data and investigate every clue.
"The killing of Zarqawi didn't occur by chance," al-Bolani told al-Arabiya TV. "His killing will raise the morale of the people as well the morale of the security services."
The death of Iraq's most feared terrorist was the subject of Friday's religious sermons in Iraq.
"The killing of the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi does not mean the end of terrorism in Iraq," Shiite Sheik Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalai said in the southern city of Karbala. He called on the government to "kill all the symbols of terrorism and kill all of (Zarqawi's) associates to get rid of terrorism in our beloved country."
Many believe Zarqawi was among a minority of foreign fighters and that Iraqis make up the heart of the insurgency — Sunni Arab extremists and loyalists of former leader Saddam Hussein and his ousted Baath Party.
"Despite the crimes of Zarqawi, the source of terrorism is the Baathists who had supplied him with secure dens and safe havens," Imam Sadr al-Din al-Qupanchi said at a Shiite mosque in Najaf.
Biological samples from Zarqawi's body were delivered to an FBI crime laboratory in Virginia for DNA testing. The results were expected in three days.
At the news conference, the U.S. military also provided a revised death toll from the attack.
Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, had said four people, including a woman and a child, were killed with Zarqawi and the terrorist's spiritual consultant.
But Caldwell said three women and three men, including Zarqawi and spiritual adviser Sheik Abdul-Rahman were killed, but he cautioned that some facts were being sorted out.
The spiritual adviser was initially believed to be Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Iraqi, but analysts said al-Iraqi is a different man — the group's deputy leader who signed the Al Qaeda statement announcing Zarqawi's death.
American military officials have said that tips from within Zarqawi's own terror network helped the U.S. locate and bomb the safe house where the Al Qaeda leader was meeting in secret with top associates.
A top Jordanian security official said Thursday that Jordan had been tracking al-Zarqawi's movements in Iraq since the triple hotel bombings in Amman last November and had provided information to the Americans about his whereabouts.
He said the success of the Jordanian intelligence effort was partly a result of information obtained following Jordan's arrest last month of Ziad Khalaf Raja al-Karbouly, an Iraqi Al Qaeda operative linked to al-Zarqawi.
"The information provided by Karbouli allowed for the success of the operation" against Zarqawi, the Jordanian security official said.
President Bush said Zarqawi's death "helps a lot" with security problems but won't bring an end to the war. He also said it was unclear when Iraqi security forces could take control and let U.S. troops go home.
In a bid to prevent reprisal attacks, Iraqi authorities imposed a driving ban in Baghdad and Diyala province to the north, where Zarqawi and the others were killed.
It was a relatively quiet day in Baghdad, a day after at least five car bombs killed nearly 40 people and wounded dozens.
But a roadside bomb hit a police patrol in the northern city of Mosul, killing one person and wounding two, and three oil refinery workers were shot to death near Tikrit. Eight bullet-riddled bodies were found floating near Kut, and a firefight west of Baqouba killed five civilians and wounded three.
Whether the bloodshed continues depends in part on who succeeds Zarqawi and the new leader will continue killing Shiite civilians with the intention of sparking a civil war that pits Sunnis against Shiites.
Caldwell said Egyptian-born Abu Ayyub al-Masri — who was named in a most-wanted list issued in February 2005 by the U.S. command and has a $50,000 bounty on his head — would likely take the reins of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
He said al-Masri and Zarqawi met for the first time at an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 2001, and al-Masri came to Iraq first. Al-Masri is believed to be an expert at making roadside bombs, the leading cause of U.S. military casualties in Iraq.
Al-Masri also has had "communications" with Usama bin Laden's chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahri, Caldwell said.
Al-Zawahri praised Zarqawi in a videotape broadcast Friday but did not mention his death in a U.S. air strike, suggesting the tape was made earlier.