DUBAI: The most wanted man in Iraq, Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, is in good health and leading operations, his group said in a statement yesterday, as Iraqi and US troops stepped up efforts to find him. "Our sheikh Abu Musab, may God watch over him, is in good health. He is preparing for battles and is leading the fight in Iraq," read a statement from the Organisation of Al Qaeda of Jihad published on an Islamist website.
The authenticity of the message could not immediately be verified.
"You will soon hear a speech from our sheikh," it said.
Since Saturday, commandos from Iraq's interior ministry and US troops have closed off entrances to Samarra and launched raids in the city and surrounding areas in search for suspects that might lead them to Zarqawi.
The Iraqi government also released new pictures of the militant, who is blamed for the worst bombings in Iraq, showing him bearded and in conversation with an individual.
The British military yesterday ruled out sabotage as the cause of a January 30 crash of a British transport plane in Iraq, but left open the possibility it could have been shot down by insurgents.
The Sun newspaper reported last month that a bomb planted aboard the C-130 Hercules plane was the most likely cause of the crash that killed nine crew members and one soldier. However, an air force investigation ruled out it was brought down by a bomb.