BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted terrorist in Iraq, was killed in a coalition airstrike near Baquba, jubilant U.S. and Iraqi authorities announced Thursday."Iraqi senior leaders from his network"... Notice that.
Al-Zarqawi's killing is a major coup for the embattled coalition forces.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Gen. George Casey, the highest-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad announced the development at a news conference.
"Today, Zarqawi has been killed," al-Maliki said. The announcement was greeted by cheers and applause.
Khalilzad -- who called al-Zarqawi "the godfather of sectarian killing and terror in Iraq" -- said the death "marks a great success for Iraq and the global war on terror" and calls it a "good omen" for the new Iraqi government.
Casey provided details about the strike that killed al-Zarqawi.
He said al-Zarqawi and a key lieutenant, spiritual adviser Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman, were at an isolated safe house at 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday.
"Tips and intelligence from Iraqi senior leaders from his network led forces to al-Zarqawi and some of his associates who were conducting a meeting approximately eight kilometers north of Baquba when the airstrike was launched.
Baquba is a volatile area northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province, a mixed Shiite-Sunni jurisdiction. There have been many roadside bombings and shootings throughout the province and within the week, severed heads were found in fruit boxes there.
"Iraqi police were first on the scene after the air strike, and elements of Multi-National Division North, arrived shortly thereafter," Casey said. "We have been able to identify al-Zarqawi by fingerprint verification, facial recognition and known scars."
In addition to Zarqawi and the spiritual adviser, seven others died in the attack.
Casey wouldn't provide many details about the action but said that "all of these operations are the result of a long, painstaking process where tips and intelligence are received, processed and checked out."
This particular operation had been in the works for a couple of weeks, leading to the location of the house and the meeting, he said. He noted that the dwelling was in a wooded area.
Casey, proudly saying "the movement has lost its leader," cautioned that "this is just a step in the process" to defeat the insurgency.
Al-Maliki indicated that the strike on al-Zarqawi was the "result of cooperation" with the citizenry, saying that authorities many times have asked the citizenry to provide information.
"This is a message to all those who take violence as a path."
Khalilzad said the demise of al-Zarqawi won't end the violence in Iraq, but it is "an important step in the right direction." He said "there will be difficult days ahead" but said that "today is a good day."