A spokesman for Iraq's Interior ministry says intelligence reports indicate al Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri has been killed in a battle with al-Qaida members in a town north of Baghdad. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from northern Iraq that al-Masri's death has not been confirmed by U.S. or Iraqi officials, but security forces are searching the area for his body.
Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Abdul Kareem Khalaf told Iraqi television that intelligence officials monitoring al-Qaida communications overheard reports that al Masri-was killed during a battle in the town of Taji.
General Khalaf said reports indicate al Qaida members in the area were fighting each other over control of a key bridge in the town. He said he cannot confirm the Egyptian-born terrorist's death until forces recover his body.
Al-Masri took over leadership of the group last June, after U.S. airstrikes killed the former leader, Abu Musab al Zarqawi. His leadership position was later endorsed by Osama bin Laden and he was placed on the American's "most wanted" list of insurgents in Iraq.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said if his death is confirmed, it could weaken al-Qaida in Iraq.
Al Dabbagh says that while the leadership would be diminished, he does not think al Masri's death would change the fight against al-Qaida. The spokesman says the group has already splintered into many cells across Iraq, and they largely operate independent of each other.
The U.S. military says coalition forces targeting al-Qaida in Iraq members near Taji killed five suspected terrorists and detained 11 others. Coalition forces also detained 11 suspected al-Qaida in Iraq terrorists in raids near Samarra and Mosul.
Iraqi officials also say insurgents attacked two buses south of Baghdad, killing at least 14 passengers.