"O nation of Islam ... Pray for the healing of our Sheikh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi from an injury he suffered in the path of God," a statement from the al-Qaida-linked Organisation for Holy War in Iraq said on Tuesday. Its authenticity could not be verified, however.

   

"You are the beloved of the mujahidin (holy fighters), and may God heal you and make you steadfast ...," said the statement posted by a user on an Islamist site which often publicises the group's activities.

   

"Our sheikh has taught us that nothing is worthy compared to... Islam," it added.

 

The statement, which purportedly was from the group's media coordinator, Abu Maysarah al-Iraqi, did not say how or when al-Zarqawi was injured.

 

US reaction

 

In Baghdad, US army Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Boylan, spokesman for US forces in Iraq said: "We have no information on whether he's wounded or what the state of his health is. He's still our number one target to be captured or killed and until that happens, the hunt is still on."

   

He also said that such reports had been heard frequently before and were almost impossible to verify.

   

The Jordanian-born fighter has
a $25 million price on his head

"This could be another one of their ploys, you never know," he added.

 

AFP quoted an unnamed US military spokesman in Baghdad as saying he declined to comment on the al-Zarqawi report, but added that if it were true, "Speaking personally, I would be pleased."

 

US sources, when contacted by Aljazeera, refused to confirm or deny the web statement.

   

The Pentagon in Washington also said it had no basis to confirm or deny the story.

   

Al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, has claimed responsibility for attacks on Iraqi civilians and security forces, kidnappings and beheadings of foreigners, and has a $25 million bounty on his head - the same as for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

 

Past reports

 

There were media reports earlier this month that the US military was investigating whether al-Zarqawi was at a Ramadi hospital and whether he was ill or wounded. These reports were never confirmed.

 

On Tuesday Aljazeera interviewed Iraqi political analyst Liqa Makki in relation to al-Zarqawi's injury claim. He said: "It is difficult to verify the authenticity of the report since we cannot of course rely on information taken from an electronic site with unknown sources."

 

"This could be another one of their ploys, you never know"

Steve Boylan,
US army Lieutenant-Colonel

"There has been a lot of talk from US spokespersons that al-Zarqawi was wounded in earlier clashes and that he was taken to a hospital in Ramadi.

 

"Next the hospital was attacked and it was claimed that a blood sample similar to al-Zarqawi's had been found. No one subsequently verified these stories," Makki said.

 

"What has been posted on the website now merits attention, but we still need to verify its authenticity."
 
Different agenda

 

Asked about the possible impact on the anti-US campaign in case the statement about al-Zarqawi's injury turned out to be correct, Makki said: "Al-Zarqawi does not represent the Iraqi resistance - for one reason, because he is not an Iraqi and for another, because his ideological agenda differs considerably from that of the Iraqi resistance.

 

Al-Zarqawi was sentenced to
death by a Jordanian court

"It is true that most of his attacks are aimed at US forces, but he is also known for targeting civilians.

 

"Such operations are deplorable regardless of the real objectives. In that sense, the removal of al-Zarqawi from the Iraqi scene could be justifiable on the grounds that one of the organisations that target Iraqi civilians had lost its leader," Makki said.

 

He added: "Moreover, the actions of al-Zarqawi has been used by US forces as an excuse for bombing Iraqi towns. If he were to disappear, US forces would lose their pretext for such assaults and many Iraqi towns would be spared further misfortune."