According to ABC News, reports that al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri has been killed are “unconfirmed and part of a misinformation campaign.” ABC has not posted its full story yet, and details are unclear, but it’s worth reviewing the last time the media reported major news about al-Masri.
On February 15, CNN reported al-Masri had been injured in a clash with Iraqi forces:
The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq has been wounded and his top aide killed in a clash with police, an Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman told CNN Thursday.
Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf said Iraqi police got into a firefight with insurgents on the road between Falluja, west of Baghdad, and Samarra, north of Baghdad, and wounded Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
Every major media outlet picked up on the news. The next day, however, the U.S. military announced that the report was false. No such event occurred.
Nevertheless, the false report came at an opportune time for the President Bush and his congressional allies.
— February 15 was the day before the House of Representatives voted on its resolution opposing Bush’s Iraq escalation strategy, marking the first time in four years that Congress voted decisively against Bush’s Iraq policy.
— Also that week, the Bush administration was aggressively attempting to contain the fall-out from its botched intelligence briefing in Baghdad, which attempted to link the deadly explosives in Iraq to senior Iranian officials. After repeatedly defending the accuracy of the intelligence, the Bush administration chose February 15 to quietly acknowledge that their intelligence was wrong.
Today’s news converage of Masri’s death may shift attention away from stories that are damaging to Bush: the four year anniversary of “Mission Accomplished,” and the official signing of Congress’s Iraq timeline legislation.
UPDATE: A screen shot of ABC’s breaking news:
UPDATE II: Evan Kohlmann writes at the Counterterrorism blog:
Al-Qaida’s “Islamic State of Iraq” has now issued a formal statement denying the death of Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, who they describe as the Islamic State’s “Minister of War.” Elsewhere, Al-Qaida supporters have suggested that the initial report of his demise was part of a desperate scheme concocted by the Iraq government aimed at forcing al-Muhajir to surface and identify himself.