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U.S. attack surprised terrorist

| Friday, May 20, 2005

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Iraq's most wanted man, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was injured and almost captured during a recent U.S. offensive near the Iraqi-Syrian border, according to Iraqi security officials.

Al-Zarqawi was not badly wounded, and he managed to escape during the weeklong U.S. siege of the town of Qaim, said two senior security officials who spoke by phone from Iraq and asked not to be named. The officials said their information is based on interrogations of insurgents captured in the area.

"He was hiding out in Qaim or in the surrounding regions," one official said. "He was apparently surprised by the American operation."

The official said Al-Zarqawi was likely a main target of the U.S. offensive, dubbed Operation Matador, which involved a Marine task force in the largest combat mission in Iraq since the invasion of Fallujah six months ago. The offensive lasted from May 8 to 15 and focused on a mainly Sunni Muslim region around Qaim, in a desert area where the Euphrates River crosses from Syria to Iraq. The U.S. military said several hundred insurgents were killed, but Iraqi officials have given estimates as low as several dozen.

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