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06-09-2006, 10:36 AM

U.S. military: Al-Zarqawi alive when troops arrived

Friday, June 9, 2006; Posted: 10:18 a.m. EDT (14:18 GMT)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was alive on a stretcher when U.S. troops reached his safe house after it had been bombed, a U.S. general said at a news conference Friday.

"Zarqawi did survive the airstrike," said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad. "We did in fact see him alive."

Caldwell said he did not know how many minutes al-Zarqawi survived. He was the only person to survive the blast, reports indicate.

The terrorist leader tried to move and "mumbled a little something" indistinguishable to troops. Caldwell said. (Watch as Gen. Caldwell tells how al-Zarqawi did not die instantly -- 3:57)

Al-Zarqawi had not been shot, he said. "No, there was nothing in the report that said he had received any wounds from some kind of weapons system like that."

"They in fact had done some analysis of his body." But Caldwell added he wasn't sure whether it was an autopsy.

On Thursday, a Caldwell had reported that al-Zarqawi was dead when U.S. troops arrived.

Caldwell answered questions Friday after he said he had been further briefed on the aftermath of the attack.

"The first people on the scene were the Iraqi police. They had found him and put him into some kind of gurney, stretcher, .... and then American coalition forces arrived immediately thereafter on site," Caldwell said.

"According to the person on the ground, Zarqawi attempted to ... turn away off the stretcher. Everybody re-secured him back on to the stretcher but he died almost immediately thereafter from the wounds he had received from the airstrike."

Acting on a maze of intelligence and tips, troops had targeted a "safe house" near Baquba in which al-Zarqawi was staying Wednesday evening. An F-16 jet dropped two 500-pound bombs on the house, reducing it to rubble. (Watch how al-Zarqawi's final moments unfolded -- 2:27)

Samir al-Sumaidie, Iraq's new ambassador to the United States, compared al-Zarqawi's life to a plague: "He wreaked havoc and he went. Good riddance."

"He headed a network of thugs and brutal killers," al-Sumaidie told CNN. Asked whether the death will end the insurgency, al-Sumaidie said, "It's not going to be overnight, but I do believe this will degrade their ability to do damage."

In Washington, President Bush congratulated U.S. troops for a "remarkable achievement." (The road to al-Zarqawi)

"Zarqawi is dead, but the difficult and necessary mission in Iraq continues," he said. "We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him."

A day after al-Zarqawi's death, at least 37 Iraqis died in Baghdad bombings Thursday, even as the Iraqi parliament ended a stalemate by finally naming key security ministers. (Full story)

The FBI said there is no evidence that a retaliatory strike is in the works as a result of al-Zarqawi's death, but the agency advised its agents to review ongoing probes and intelligence in the hopes of detecting any possible revenge.

FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said the agency had matched the dead man's fingerprints with al-Zarqawi's prints on file and also would do a DNA analysis. Al Zarqawi's death was confirmed on Islamic Web sites.