From NBC's Courtney Kube
The U.S. military in Iraq is now confirming that Iraqi Security Forces, supported by U.S. Forces, killed the two most senior al Qaeda leaders in Iraq early Sunday morning.
Abu Ayyub al Masri (also known as Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir) and Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, were killed during the series of joint security operations about 10 kilometers southwest of Tikrit.
One U.S. service member was killed and three were injured in support of this operation when their helicopter crashed late Saturday evening.
Abu Ayyub al Masri was the military leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Al Masri replaced Abu Musab al Zarqawi when he was killed in June of 2006.
Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, also known as Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al Zawi, was the AQI leader of the proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and was known by his title "Prince of the Faithful."
The Iraqi and U.S. forces found the leaders by piecing together intelligence from a series of joint operations over the past week. They finally found the AQI leaders' safehouse and conducted the nighttime raid early Sunday morning. The U.S. military says that both al Masri and al-Baghdadi engaged the Iraqi and U.S. forces before they were killed.
Also killed in the raid were one of al Masri's assistants and al-Baghdadi's son, both of whom were also allegedly involved in terrorist activities.
Sixteen additional suspected criminal associates were also arrested during the raids.
"The death of these terrorists is potentially the most significant blow to al Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency," said the United States Forces-Iraq Commander, General Raymond T. Odierno, in a written statement. "The Government of Iraq intelligence services and security forces supported by U.S. intelligence and special operations forces have over the last several months continued to degrade AQI. There is still work to do but this is a significant step forward in ridding Iraq of terrorists."