British Forces Kill High Profile Al Qaeda Leader in Iraq

British forces said they killed a top terrorist leader Monday, identified by Iraqi officials as an Al Qaeda leader who had escaped from a U.S. prison in Afghanistan and returned to Iraq.

Omar al-Farouq was killed in a pre-dawn raid by 250 British troops from the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment on his home in Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, British forces spokesman Maj. Charlie Burbridge said.

Al-Farouq was killed after he opened fire on British soldiers entering his home, Burbridge said.

"We had information that a terrorist of considerable significance was hiding in Basra, as a result of that information we conducted an operation in an attempt to arrest him," Burbridge told The Associated Press by telephone from southern Iraq. "During the attempted arrest Omar Farouq was killed, which is regrettable because we wanted to arrest him."

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He said he could not comment on whether it was the same man who led Al Qaeda's Southeast Asia operations, citing British policy not allowing him to link an individual to a specific organization.

But a Basra police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said it was the same man, adding al-Farouq was known to be an expert in bomb making. The officer said al-Farouq was going by the name Mahmoud Ahmed while living in Basra, adding that he entered Iraq three months ago.

Earlier, Basra police Lt. Col. Kareem al-Zubaidi identified the man killed as Mahmoud Ahmed, saying he returned two weeks ago after reportedly fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. There was no explanation for the differing accounts on the date of his arrival.

Neighbors told The AP that al-Farouq was a member of al-Qaida and had received training in camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The U.S. command had no immediate comment on the incident.

Al-Farouq, was one of four Al Qaeda suspects who broke out of the prison in Bagram, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, in July 2005.

It was an embarrassing incident for the U.S. military, and Pentagon waited until November to confirm that the man had escaped. The delay in releasing his name upset Indonesia, who had arrested al-Farouq in 2002 and then turned him over to the United States — who then shipped him to Afghanistan.

The Al Qaeda leader and the three others picked locks and got around a minefield to get out of the prison, then managed to evade a massive manhunt. They later appeared in a video sent to the Dubai-based television station Al-Arabiya and boasted of their feat.

The British Ministry of Defense would not confirm specifics on al-Farouq, but did say the suspect killed "was closely linked to terrorist activity such as murders and kidnappings."

CountryWatch: Iraq