al-Qaeda's number two Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is rumoured to have been killed in Iraq but the United States expressed scepticism about it, saying it was 'highly unlikely'.
Reacting to a report on Zarqawi's death by Stratfor or Strategic Forecasting Intelligence, a private intelligence company, White House spokesman Trent Duffy accompanying US President George W Bush to a visit to China said the story was 'highly unlikely not credible'.
Zarqawi may have been among a group of insurgents killed in battle in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Saturday, the Stratfor report said on Sunday.
There are unconfirmed rumors from multiple sources in the Middle East that the al-Qaeda frontman was killed in a raid by US forces in Mosul, it said. However, the report cannot be verified until the intelligence firm gets other evidence.
The Jordanian-born al-Qaeda leader is the most wanted man in Iraq with a US bounty of $25 million on his head for spearheading insurgent attacks.
The reports came his family members renounced the terror leader, telling King Abdullah II that they were to 'sever links with him until doomsday'. The 57 members of the al-Khalayleh family, including al-Zarqawi's brother and cousin, reiterated their strong allegiance to the King.
Al-Zarqawi, whose real name is Ahmed Fadeel Nazzal al-Khalayleh, claimed responsibility for the November 9 attacks on three Amman hotels, which killed 58 people and he had threatened to kill the King in an audiotape on Friday.
Stratfor said the US attacked a location in Mosul, in which eight individuals were reported killed and burned beyond recognition. It would appear that the attack was triggered by some intelligence and that it held open the possibility that the command cell of al-Qaeda in Iraq was there.
The attack reportedly triggered an intense firefight, in which at least five insurgents were killed. Three others reportedly blew themselves up to avoid capture, it said.
That al-Zarqawi would be in Mosul, far to the north of Baghdad, is plausible - an almost constant series of US-led offensives against insurgents in Anbar province have made places like Ar Ramadi, Al Fallujah, and Al Hadithah dangerous for high-value targets like the extremist network leader.
In addition, a fierce and desperate firefight would be characteristic of efforts by his entourage to defend al-Zarqawi. As it became apparent that capture was imminent, it is plausible that al-Zarqawi would choose suicide as an alternative, the report claimed.
It is interesting that the attack came on the heels of Jordan's intense attack on within its borders and on anyone linked to al-Zarqawi.
This followed the bombings of three hotels in Amman. It is speculative - but not unreasonable - to assume that the Jordanians, during their crackdown, secured intelligence on the location of al-Zarqawi's command cell, the report said.