Bomb killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi but he took nearly an hour to die
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A medic spent about 20 minutes trying to save Abu Musab al-Zarqawi even as blood ran from the terrorist's mouth after the airstrike that mortally wounded him, the U.S. military said Monday.
But the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq was not wearing the suicide belt he vowed to use if American soldiers ever caught him.
Seeking to dispel allegations that al-Zarqawi was beaten or shot while in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said an autopsy performed Saturday proved the Jordanian-born militant died of "massive internal injuries" that were consistent with a blast caused by the two 500-pound bombs dropped on his hideout.
"A coalition medic treated Zarqawi while he did lapse in and out of consciousness," Caldwell said at a news conference in Baghdad. "The medic secured his airway, at which point Zarqawi expelled blood." He said the medic "noted the breathing was shallow and labored."
Col. Steve Jones, command surgeon for Multinational Forces, said DNA tests done by the FBI positively identified al-Zarqawi.
The cause of death was listed as "primary blast injury of the lung," with blast waves from the two bombs causing bruising and bleeding of the organs. Al-Zarqawi suffered multiple bruises, scratches and deep head wounds, and Jones found no evidence he had been beaten or shot. X-rays also showed a fracture of his right lower leg.
"All the injuries found were consistent with the type seen in blast victims," Jones said. "The abrasions, lacerations and the fracture were likely due to flying debris, or Zarqawi being thrown against a hard object by the force of the blast."
The military presented the details of al-Zarqawi's death amid confusion over events leading up to it and a claim by a witness that U.S. troops beat the terror mastermind to death.
An Iraqi man identified only as Mohammed, who said he lives near the house where al-Zarqawi and five others were killed, told AP Television News and The Washington Post that he saw U.S. soldiers after the airstrike beating an injured man until blood flowed from his nose. He said the man resembled al-Zarqawi. It was not clear if he mistook first-aid procedures for a beating.
Caldwell said Iraqi forces were first at the scene. U.S. forces arrived about 28 minutes after the 6:12 p.m. airstrike Wednesday and a coalition medic began treating al-Zarqawi, who was having difficulty breathing. The terror leader died at 7:04 p.m., Caldwell said.
Al-Zarqawi was not wearing an explosives vest despite his frequent claims that he wore one to prevent capture by American troops.
"He was in some kind of black outfit ... which they did start removing from him," Caldwell said. "But there was nothing that said he had a suicide belt on in the report that I saw."
He said he could not provide more details about the condition of the outfit but suggested that troops had probably cut off al-Zarqawi's clothes to facilitate medical care.
The military also said al-Zarqawi's spiritual adviser, Sheik Abdul-Rahman, was killed instantly in the bombing. Abdul-Rahman's wounds, including a fractured skull and multiple rib fractures, were more serious than al-Zarqawi's.
The medical examiner, whom the military did not identify, said Abdul-Rahman was probably closer to the detonation of the bomb and was likely thrown against a wall or had his head crushed.
Both men were believed to have been inside the house when they were killed, the doctors said. The U.S. military also told The Associated Press that the spiritual adviser was not Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Iraqi, who in the past had been identified as al-Qaida in Iraq's deputy leader in statements by the group.
Caldwell also said no decision had been made on what to do with the remains of al-Zarqawi and Abdul-Rahman.
"Right now we're still in discussions with the government of Iraq. They're still currently under coalition control," Caldwell said.
He said the bodies of two women, a man and a young girl killed in the bombing were turned over to Iraqi authorities. None was identified.
The military has promised to release a more detailed timeline of events in the next few days.
A senior Iraqi official said Sunday that U.S. troops may have arrived at the safehouse as much as an hour after the attack -- far longer than the 28 minutes Caldwell said it took them to get there.
Iraqi National Security adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie told CNN the Iraqi police reached the house first. He said coalition forces arrived after "an hour or so."
Associated Press writers Patrick Quinn and Ryan Lenz in Baghdad contributed to this report.