Insurgent commander Abu al-Tunisi declared dead in airstrike - one year after first report of death

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Abu al-Tunisi

The United States announced today that an airstrike against a house in Yusufiyah, Iraq on Tuesday completed its mission, killing insurgent commander Abu Usama al-Tunisi and two others. The airstrike, by an F-16 carrying two 500 lb bombs, came hours after a tip that al-Tunisi would be holding a meeting that day.

However, al-Tunisi had been reported dead more than a year ago.

The April 2006 downing of a helicopter, and mutilation of a pilot, by al-Tunisi's "Aeisha" brigade.

The Tunisian militant had come to American attention during the Second Battle of Fallujah in November 2004, and had overseen anti-aircraft missions and participated in the 2005 attack against Abu Ghraib. His death was reported by Abu al-Zarqawi's army on May 20, 2006 in an al-Hesbah communique later translated and released by FBI Terrorism consultant Evan Kohlmann. He was reportedly killed after a US helicopter attack in Yusufiyah killed him and four other insurgents.

Following this week's bombing, Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson addressed a press conference at the Pentagon stating that the death of al-Tunisi would "fracture" the Sunni insurgency within the country - claiming that the man was "one of the most senior leaders" and "part of the inner leadership circle". His name did not appear on the Iraqi Government's list of 41 Most Wanted.

Anderson also stated that al-Tunisi's group, the Aisha Battalion of anti-aircraft operations, was responsible for the kidnappings and deaths of US soldiers in June of 2006, a month after he was reported killed. While the Army could not confirm which soldiers Anderson was referencing, a June 16 kidnapping led to the death of Spc. David J. Babineau, Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas Tucker who were guarding a bridge into Baghdad.

al-Tunisi was said to be a potential replacement for al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Hamza al-Muhajir who was killed by tribesmen in May of this year. Multinational Force Iraq spokesman Maj. Winfield Danielson stated that “This is one more al-Qaeda in Iraq criminal who will never kill another innocent civilian,” although all of al-Tunisi's known targets were American soldiers, not Iraqi civilians.

While the military stated that they had "definitively identified" the body as being al-Tunisi, they refused to elaborate on their methods of verification - stating only that two captured Iraqis told them that it was al-Tunisi. Although a letter found inside the house referred to being "desperate" and being unable to travel outside the city - it was unsigned, and the only evidence that it was written by al-Tunisi was that it "was with his belongings".

The tip was confirmed by a local Iraqi arrested near the site of the house just before the bombing, which killed three. Military press releases reported that al-Tunisi's body had been "definitively" identified and that his handwriting was evident on papers inside the bombed house.

Kohlmann said the contradiction raised "some pretty serious questions", and that any claims that al-Tunisi could have faked his own death to deceive US military intelligence would be "virtually unprecedented" behaviour for the insurgents.

In May, the US military was forced to admit that Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner's announcement declaring the death of al-Qaeda in Iraq lieutenant Kamal Jalil Uthman was incorrect after the San Francisco Examiner pointed out that the army had already reported Uthman killed a year earlier, in a document entitled "Tearing Down al Qaeda".


Sources

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