CAIRO, Egypt – Al Qaeda in Iraq on Wednesday denied that its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was among those killed in a weekend raid and gunfight in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
The statement — posted on an Islamic Web site that often carries militant reports — came a day after a top U.S. commander in Iraq said he has "absolutely no reason" to believe al-Zarqawi had died.
The insurgents' denial followed a fierce gunbattle between Iraqi and U.S. soldiers on Saturday after the coalition forces received tips that Al Qaeda members, possibly including al-Zarqawi, were inside a house in Mosul.
Three insurgents detonated explosives and killed themselves to avoid capture and five more died in fighting, the U.S. military said, adding that four Iraqi police officers also were killed.
Al Qaeda said it delayed responding to the rumors of al-Zarqawi's death "until this lie took its full length to let Muslims know the extent of [the media's] stupidity and shallow thinking." The statement could not be verified.
Iraqi officials said DNA tests were under way to determine if al-Zarqawi was among the dead, though the White House also said reports of al-Zarqawi's death were "highly unlikely and not credible."
Lt. Gen. John Vines, chief of the Multi-National Corps Iraq, confirmed Tuesday that U.S. officials have the ability to determine if al-Zarqawi was there.
The U.S. command said 11 American soldiers, nine Iraqi army troops and one policeman were wounded in the fighting.
But the Al Qaeda statement said five people, including a woman, were in the house and the woman blew herself up among 20 Iraqi and U.S. soldiers to avoid arrest. It said the four men were killed when helicopters bombed the house, and 20 Iraqi and 15 U.S. soldiers were killed.