A statement was posted earlier, saying a deputy to al-Zarqawi has been appointed. But the statement was posted under a name not usually associated with al-Qaida's announcements.

"The information section of the al-Qaida Organisation has its own media outlets known to Muslims, which is Abu Maisara al-Iraqi," the latest Internet statement on Thursday said, clarifying the name that most often accompanies statements purportedly coming from the group.

"We deny the claim about the appointment of one Abu Hafs or anyone else," the statement said.

The authenticity of the statements could not be confirmed.

The statement was signed by the information section of the al-Qaida Organisation in the Land of Two Rivers, like the one posted on a website earlier on Thursday claiming the appointment of a deputy chief of the group.

Allegation

The earlier statement said the group had appointed a deputy until al-Zarqawi returned.

"We deny the claim about the appointment of one Abu Hafs or anyone else"

Internet statement purpotedly from al-Qaida's Iraq branch

"The leaders met after the injury of our sheikh, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi ... and decided to appoint a deputy to take the lead until the return of our sheikh," said the statement.

It identified Abu Hafs al-Kurani as "deputy of the holy warriors".

The statement said that al-Kurani "was known for carrying out the hardest operations, and our sheikh would choose him and his group for the tough operations".

It was signed off in the name of Abu Doujanah al-Tunisi of the media committee of al-Qaida in Iraq. Al-Tunisi was not a familiar name signing off such statements.

It came after recent rumours and claims that al-Zarqawi was wounded, possibly by a bullet penetrating his lung, and that he may have been taken out of Iraq for medical care.

Disputed arguments

Iraq's interior minister on Thursday told a news conference that reports that al-Zarqawi had been wounded were true.

The US blames al-Zarqawi for
much of the violence in Iraq

"Yes, it is true," Bayan Jabor said when asked about the Internet posting that said al-Zarqawi had been wounded.

Jabor said he had received information five days ago that al-Zarqawi had been wounded but would not say where the information came from.

"It is my job to know," he said.

Iraqi official

Wafiq al-Samarrai, a security adviser to Iraq's president, told Aljazeera: "It is more likely that al-Zarqawi has been wounded during the vast military operations launched in western Iraq, Baghdad and Salah al-Din province."
 
"There have been two possibilities: The first one is that the news was leaked by al-Zarqawi and his organisation to show him as a 'superman' and this is less probable. The second possibility is that he has been wounded," al-Samarrai said.
 
"The wounding of al-Zarqawi gives the impression that terrorists are in a state of retreat," he added.
  
"Many of al-Zarqawi's aides have been arrested and they will shortly appear on TV screens," al-Samarrai said.
 
When asked about reports that al-Zarqawi was moved to a neighbouring country accompanied by two physicians, al-Samarrai said: "We are not concerned with wherever he goes as he is now considered out of the battle."