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Military Reports It Has Killed A Senior Leader of Al Qaeda In Iraq, But Was He Killed A Year Ago?

The U.S. military announced today that it has killed a “senior leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.” Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson “identified the man as Abu Usama al-Tunisi, a Tunisian described as a close associate and likely successor to Abu Ayyub al-Masri, Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s Egyptian leader.”

CNN quickly jumped on the story, reporting that al-Tunisi was “killed Tuesday south of Baghdad.” CNN’s Jamie McIntyre reported:

[The military was] able to zero in on this al Qaeda leader in a series of operations that began in early September, and it’s really a textbook of how the U.S. military is operating. Each operation, they capture somebody who’s a little bit closer to the guy they’re looking for.

CNN said the death was confirmed by a hand-written note from al-Tunisi that was found in the aftermath of an airstrike “in which he says he’s surrounded and desperate for help.” “The main thing here,” McIntyre reported, “is the U.S. military insists this was a dangerous terrorist” and it deals “a serious blow” to the al Qaeda leadership. Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2007/09/cnnterrorist.320.240.flv]

But terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann issued a “global terror alert” last year stating that al-Tunisi had died in July 2006. Kohlman’s report quotes a release from a terrorist group:

“The martyrdom of Abu Usama al-Tunisi [from Tunisia], the commander of [Al-Qaida’s] Aeisha Brigade [tasked with air defense missions]… I announce the news to the Islamic nation regarding the martyrdom of one of its heroes and true men.”

While it’s possible that there could have been two different Abu Usama al-Tunisis, it is the responsibility of news organizations to resolve these kinds of questions and double-check the facts before reporting them.

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Moreover, there is reason for skepticism. In July, the U.S. command in Baghdad “ballyhooed the killing of a key al Qaeda leader but later admitted that the military had declared him dead a year ago.” Also in July, the military announced the capture of a “top leader of al Qaeda in Iraq” who had been captured weeks ago.

UPDATE: After doubts were raised about the recent death of al-Tunisi, counterterrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann wrote of confirmation that Tunisi did in fact die in a raid recently.