BAGHDAD - U.S.-led forces killed a top al-Qaeda in Iraq figure linked to kidnappings of a Christian Science Monitor reporter and other Westerners, the military said yesterday as mourners gathered at the slain leader's home in a Sunni insurgent area north of Baghdad.

The announcement of the death of al-Qaeda propagandist Muharib Abdul-Latif al-Jubouri came after days of conflicting reports from the Iraqi government that the top leaders of the group and its front organization - the Islamic State of Iraq - had been killed.

The chief U.S. spokesman, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, said the military did not have the bodies of al-Qaeda boss Abu Ayyub al-Masri or Islamic State leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and did not know "of anybody that does."

Caldwell said the confusion apparently stemmed from misunderstandings among Iraqi security forces as Jubouri's body was being moved across Baghdad after it was released to his tribe. But he played down implications that it was a symptom of a broader problem of communication between U.S. and Iraqi forces, saying instead it showed that the Iraqis were doing their jobs.

"They at least knew that they had somebody who was very significant," he said, adding that was "a very positive thing."

The Islamic State of Iraq confirmed in an Internet statement that Jubouri, whom it called its official spokesman, had been killed. It denied the deaths of Baghdadi and Masri.

Jubouri was believed to have been deeply involved in the kidnapping of Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor reporter who was released unharmed, and Tom Fox of Clear Brook, Va., one of four men from the Chicago-based peace group Christian Peacemaker Teams found shot to death in Baghdad in March 2006, he said. He was also involved in the kidnapping of two Germans in January 2006, Caldwell said.

Caldwell said Jubouri helped facilitate Carroll's transport from one location to another and was believed to have been the last known person to have custody of Fox before he was killed. The Monitor later reported that Carroll did not recognize a photo of Jubouri that the military provided.

Jubouri was arrested in 2003 by the United States and freed a year later, Caldwell said. A man who claimed to be a relative said Jubouri, in his mid-30s and a father of four, deepened his involvement with insurgents after his release. The relative spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for his safety.

Caldwell said Jubouri had worked in Syria, where he allegedly helped smuggle foreign fighters and funds into Iraq until he returned to the country in September.

Jubouri was killed early Tuesday during an operation dubbed "Rat Trap" about four miles west of the Taji, a town near an air base north of Baghdad, Caldwell said. The body was identified by photos and DNA testing, he said.

Yesterday, mourners gathered at Jubouri's house in Duluiyah, 45 miles north of Baghdad, as a huge funeral tent went up in the street, police said.

Caldwell said 87 militants were killed and 465 people of interest detained in 139 operations against the group in April.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have stepped up operations against the al-Qaeda network after a series of car bombings and suicide attacks that have killed hundreds in recent weeks despite the 11-week-old operation in Baghdad and nearby areas.

Iraqi Insurgents Strike Green Zone

At least 52 people were killed or found dead in Iraq yesterday, including four in mortar attacks in different parts of Baghdad and two in a parked car bombing that also wounded more than 30 in the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk.

The U.S. Embassy said

a rocket attack on the Green Zone killed four Asian contractors Wednesday, the third straight day that extremists fired rockets or mortars at the U.S.-controlled area.

The Green Zone houses the U.S. and British Embassies, and Iraq's parliament, and

is considered the city's safest area.

But its security has been questioned since the

April 12 suicide bombing in parliament's dining hall, which killed a lawmaker.

- Associated PressEndText