BAGHDAD, Iraq – A statement posted Sunday on an internet Web site known as a clearing-house for Al Qaeda material denied recent speculation that the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq is dead.
Reports that Abu Ayyub al-Masri had been killed surfaced after a raid Tuesday that killed four militants in the western Iraqi town of Haditha. Al-Masri is believed to have taken over Al Qaeda in Iraq after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed June 7 in a U.S. airstrike.
On Thursday, the U.S. military announced it was conducting DNA tests on a slain militant to determine if he is the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. However, U.S. and Iraqi officials said it did not appear that the militant was al-Masri, which is a pseudonym for Abu Hamza al-Muhajer.
The Sunday statement signed by the Mujahedeen Shura Council — an umbrella organization of insurgent groups, including Al Qaeda in Iraq — said "Al Qaeda in Iraq and the rest of the brothers in the Mujahedeen Shura Council are in their best shape."
"The group is getting stronger day after day and our Sheik Abu Hamza al-Muhajer is in his best health, plotting for battles," the statement said.
U.S. officials said al-Masri joined an extremist group led by Al Qaeda's No. 2 official Ayman al-Zawahri in 1982. He joined Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in 1999 and trained as a car bombing expert before traveling to Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.