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Iraq Investigating Reports Al-Qaeda In Iraq Leader Killed

Abu Ayyub al-Masri (file photo) (epa) May 1, 2007 -- The Iraqi Interior Ministry says it is investigating reports that the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, has been killed.

Brigadier General Abd al-Karim Khalaf, director of the National Command Center at the Interior Ministry, said on state television that the ministry has "very strong intelligence information" that al-Masri was killed in an internal fight between militants north of Baghdad.

A spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq, Christopher Garver, could not confirm the report.

A coalition of Sunni militant groups linked to Al-Qaeda today denied that al-Masri had been killed. In a statement posted on the Internet, the group said al-Masri is alive and safe.

Al-Masri assumed the leadership of Al-Qaeda in Iraq after Jordanian militant Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. air strike in June 2006.

Civilian Deaths Reported Down In April

According to Iraqi government figures, violence in Iraq killed 1,506 civilians in April.

That's nearly a 20 percent drop from the previous month.

The figures were compiled by the Interior, Defense, and Health ministries and obtained by Reuters.

A U.S.-backed security crackdown in Baghdad has helped reduce some violence in the city, such as sectarian death squad killings.

But militants, especially Al-Qaeda, have stepped up attacks outside the capital.

Meanwhile, gunmen ambushed travelers on a major highway south of Baghdad today, killing at least 14 people in two separate attacks.

Police said that near the town of Al-Iskandariyah, gunmen ambushed a minibus killing 11 people, including women and children.

Also today near Al-Latifiyah, a group of gunmen opened fire on civilian cars, killing three people and wounding five. The attacks occurred on the main highway linking Baghdad to the predominantly Shi'ite southern provinces.

(compiled from agency reports)

Iraq In Transition

Iraq In Transition

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