The US military said it killed a senior figure in Al Qaeda's Iraq operation, one who also played a role in the murder of the American Tom Fox, the murder of former Monitor interpreter Alan Enwiya, and the kidnapping of Monitor reporter Jill Carroll.
Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told reporters in Baghdad that Muharib Abdul-Latif al-Jubouri, who he identified as the information minister for Al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed by US-led forces on Tuesday near Taji Air Base.
The US military says it doesn't know the full extent of Mr. Jubouri's involvement in Ms. Carroll's kidnapping. Carroll says she doesn't recognize the photo released by the military of Jubouri.
Over the past year the US military has detained a number of figures believed to have been involved in the Carroll kidnapping in January 2006 and in the November 2005 kidnapping of Mr. Fox and three other members of the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT), a pacifist group operating at that time in Baghdad.
Four men charged in the CPT kidnappings are scheduled to go on trial in Iraq this year. A US military spokesman said the information obtained about Jubouri came from "detainees" and "intelligence sources."
What role did Jubouri play in Carroll's kidnapping?
General Caldwell's description of the role of the dead man – particularly that "we know he is responsible for propaganda and ransom videos for Jill Carroll" – would imply that Jubouri was Jill's chief captor, a man known to her as "Abu Nour" and as "Abdullah Rashid."
Another senior captor that Carroll knew as Abu Rasha, a burly man who played a major role in the logistics of her captivity, also partially fits Caldwell's statement that Jubouri was "responsible for the transportation and movement of Jill Carroll from her various hiding places."
But Carroll was held by a number of men, and the photo of Jubouri doesn't appear to be either Abu Rasha or Abu Nour. She says the photo might be of a kidnapper whom she had taken to be a low-status guard, but couldn't be sure.
Carroll says that Abu Nour – a slight man with an icy temperament – had played a major role in scripting and directing the propaganda videos she was forced to make while in captivity. There was no doubt in her mind that he was the most powerful of the captors she had contact with, though her captor's conversations led her to believe that there were others involved in her kidnapping and Mr. Enwiya's murder.
Shortly before Carroll's release March 30, 2006, Abu Nour forced her to conduct a wide-ranging interview with him in which he claimed he was the emir of the Mujahidin Shura Council (MSC), an umbrella organization for Al Qaeda and like-minded insurgent groups that was set up earlier that year.
He also told her that his real name was Abdullah Rashid. A man who has called himself variously Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi has been identified in online insurgent propaganda as the leader of the MSC and of the Islamic State of Iraq.
While this led to speculation by this paper and others that Carroll's chief captor – al-Baghdadi – may indeed have been the top Iraqi in Al Qaeda's orbit in the country, there was also the chance he was exaggerating his organizational importance, either out of pride or as an act of misdirection.
Caldwell's press conference created the impression that Jubouri may have been among Jill's chief captors, but a US military spokesman clarified later that his importance in the Carroll case has not yet been determined. "He was involved in [Carroll's kidnapping] but we have not identified the level of his involvement," says Lt. Col. Christopher Garver. He says that Jubouri participated in a meeting with three other insurgents about Carroll in March 2006, but he couldn't provide further details.
Caldwell said the killing of Jubouri may have created the "confusion" that led the Iraqi government to claim this week that Baghdadi had been killed. An Iraqi military spokesman also said this week that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, purported leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, had been killed in an internal fight among insurgents near Taji.
Caldwell said the US has no knowledge of any other senior Al Qaeda-linked insurgents who have been killed recently. "This [Jubouri] is the individual I think [who] has caused some of the recent confusion as to who was the senior person in the Al Qaeda network who had been killed," he said. On Thursday, the Islamic State of Iraq confirmed on its website the death of its spokesman, Jubouri, but denied that Baghdadi had been killed, according to the SITE Institute, an organization that monitors jihadi websites.
The US military spokesman also strongly implied that Jubouri was the killer of Fox, the sole American among the four CPT hostages. Jubouri "was the last one known to have personal custody of Tom Fox before his death," Caldwell said.
Colonel Garver says that Jubouri was arrested as part of "Operation Rat Trap," a recent series of 29 operations against Al Qaeda figures in Iraq.
The Monitor's editor, Richard Bergenheim, says the news "reminds us of the enormous efforts made by everyone over 82 days to secure Jill's safe release. While much remains to be done to improve conditions in Iraq, we appreciate the continuing efforts by the US military and the Iraqi government to make the country a safer place for journalists and citizens alike."
Correspondent Sam Dagher contributed from Baghdad.