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Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (Arabic: ابو مصعب الزرقاوي) (possibly born on October 20, 1966) is a shadowy Jordanian national who is wanted as an international terrorist. He is from the town of Zarqa, a poor and crime-ridden industrial town 30 minutes northeast of Amman. One alias, Ahmad Fadeel al-Nazal al-Khalayleh (Arabic: أحمد فاضل النزال الخلايله), is believed to be his real name. Zarqawi literally translates into "man from Zarqa".   As a suspected Islamist militant, Zarqawi is believed to be violently opposed to the presence of U.S., Israeli and allied military forces in the Islamic world.
In personal accounts Zarqawi is usually described as somber and unintelligent, with a violent temper. He is alleged to be a senior al Qaida associate of Osama bin Laden. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell described Zarqawi as an "al Qaida operative." Senior U.S. military officials have described him as a "separate jihadist." Zarqawi has allegedly participated in violent actions against the United States military in Iraq and against a U.S. diplomat in Jordan. As a result, the U.S. government is offering a USD$25 million reward for information leading to his capture, the same amount offered for the capture of Osama bin Laden before March 2004. An emerging view holds that Zarqawi now holds significantly more power than bin Laden because of Zarqawi's heightened visibility as a leader of the insurgency against the U.S. military and Iraqi interim government. On October 21, 2004, Zarqawi officially announced his allegiance to Al Qaida; on December 27, 2004, Al-Jazeera broadcast an audiotape of bin Laden calling Zarqawi "the prince of al Qaeda in Iraq" and asked "all our organization brethren to listen to him and obey him in his good deeds."
Despite the absence of clear evidence, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is widely regarded as the leader of Jama'at al-Tawhid wal Jihad (Monotheism and Holy Struggle Movement), an insurgent network operating in Iraq. There are also reports that he was arrested by the Iranian government, and, together with several other high-level al-Qaida suspects, he was offered to the U.S. government in a deal that was never consummated. There are rumors that Zarqawi is dead because no sightings of him have been confirmed since 2001. In one report, the conservative newspaper Daily Telegraph described as myth the claim that Zarqawi was the head of the terrorist network in Iraq. According to a U.S. military intelligence source, the Zarqawi myth resulted from faulty intelligence obtained by the payment of substantial sums of money to unreliable and dishonest sources. The faulty intelligence was accepted, however, because it suited US government political goals, according to an unnamed intelligence officer. The Zarqawi myth has also been purported to be the product of U.S. war propaganda designed to promote the image of a demonic enemy figure to help justify continued U.S. military operations in Iraq.
On 15 October 2004, the U.S. State Department added Zarqawi and the Jama'at al-Tawhid wal Jihad group to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations and ordered a freeze on any assets that the group might have in the United States.
A member of Jordan's Beni Hassan tribe, Zarqawi grew up in poverty and squalor. At the age of 17 he dropped out of school and began drinking heavily. According to vague Jordanian intelligence reports, Zarqawi was jailed briefly in the 1980s for sexual assault.
In 1989, Zarqawi traveled to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but the Soviets were already leaving by the time he arrived. Instead, he became a reporter for an Islamist newsletter. There are reports that in the mid-1990s, Zarqawi travelled to Europe and started the al-Tawhid terrorist organization, a group dedicated to killing Jews and installing an Islamic regime in Jordan.
Other reports claim Zarqawi was arrested in Jordan in 1992, and spent seven years in a Jordanian prison for conspiring to overthrow the monarchy and establish an Islamic caliphate. In prison, Zarqawi reportedly became a feared leader among inmates. Others who knew him during this time reported that Zarqawi wasn't intelligent enough to organize a small crime gang, let alone a vast terrorist network. Yet, upon his release in 1999, Zarqawi was reportedly involved in an attempt to blow up the Radisson SAS Hotel in Amman, Jordan, whose customers are frequently Israeli and American tourists. He fled Jordan and travelled to Peshawar, Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border.
In Afghanistan, Zarqawi established a terrorist training camp near Herat which competed with al-Qaida for recruits. According to the Bush administration, the training camp specialized in poisons and explosives.
Reported September 11 connection and the invasion of Iraq
Some U.S. officials have claimed that Zarqawi and Mohammed Atta, the lead September 11 attacker, met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Prague five months before the September 11 attacks. These claims were used to support the claim that Iraq was a threat to the U.S. and as a justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. However, The New York Times reported on October 21, 2002 that Atta did not meet with Iraqi Intelligence in Prague. This was later officially confirmed in the 9/11 Commission report.
In Colin Powell's famed speech to the United Nations urging war against Iraq, Zarqawi was named as a principal reason for the need for war. Many parts of the speech have since been discredited, and Powell mistakenly referred to Zarqawi as a Palestinian, but Powell and the Bush administration continue to stand by the statements. (According to MSNBC, the Pentagon had pushed to "take out" Zarqawi's operation at least three times, but had been vetoed by the White House because Zarqawi's removal would undercut the case that war on Iraq was part of The War On Terrorism .)
After September 11
After the September 11 attacks, Zarqawi again travelled to Afghanistan and was reportedly wounded in a U.S. bombardment. He moved to Iran to organize al-Tawhid, his former terrorist organization. Zarqawi then settled in the mostly-Kurdish regions of northern Iraq, where he joined the Islamist Ansar al-Islam group that fought against Kurdish-nationalist forces in the region. He reportedly became a leader in the group, although his leadership role has not been established. His followers claimed he was killed in a US bombing raid in the north of Iraq .
Assassination of Laurence Foley
Laurence Foley was a senior U.S. diplomat working for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Jordan. On October 28, 2002, he was assassinated outside his home in Amman. Under harsh interrogation by Jordanian authorities, three suspects confessed that they had been armed and paid by Zarqawi to perform the assassination. U.S. officials believe that the planning and execution of the Foley assassination was led by members of Afghan Jihad , the International Mujaheddin Movement , and al-Qaida. One of the leaders, Salim Sa'd Salim Bin-Suwayd , was paid over USD$50 thousand for his work in planning assassinations in Jordan against U.S., Israeli, and Jordanian government officials. Suwayd was arrested in Jordan for the murder of Foley.  Zarqawi was again sentenced in absentia in Jordan; this time, his sentence was death.
The beheading of Nicholas Berg
In May 2004, a videotape was released showing a group of five men beheading American-Israeli dual citizen Nick Berg, who had been abducted in Iraq weeks earlier. The speaker on the tape, wielding the knife that killed Nick Berg, identified himself as Zarqawi and claimed responsibility for planning the operation. He stated that the killing was in retaliation for US abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison (see Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal); CIA analysis of the voice concluded that it was indeed Zarqawi's. The CIA analysis failed to quell doubts about the validity of the claim because, among other reasons, the man wears a mask in the video and did not resemble Zarqawi in other superficial ways. (see: Nick Berg conspiracy theories and this Sydney Morning Herald article)
- Zarqawi is believed by the former Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to have written an intercepted letter to the al-Qaida leadership in February 2004 on the progress of the Iraqi jihad. Many observers do not believe that Zarqawi wrote the letter. (See Zarqawi Letter .)
- U.S. officials believe that Zarqawi trained others in the use of poison for possible attacks in Europe, ran a terrorist haven in northern Iraq, and organized the bombing of a Baghdad hotel
- Jordan accuses Zarqawi of plotting to release a chemical cloud in Amman. Men were arrested in Amman who purportedly were planning to release the chemical attack. He was convicted in absentia on March 20, 2005, and sentenced to 15 years in prison in addition to his two death sentences for earlier crimes in Jordan.
- According to suspects arrested in Turkey, Zarqawi sent them to Istanbul to organize an attack on a NATO summit there on June 28 or June 29.
- On July 11, 2004, Zarqawi claimed responsibility for a July 8 mortar attack in Samarra, Iraq. Five American soldiers and one Iraqi soldier were killed.
- U.S. officials blame Zarqawi for over 700 killings in Iraq during the occupation, mostly from bombings.
- Zarqawi has also purportedly claimed responsibility for the Canal Hotel bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Iraq on August 19, 2003. This attack killed 22 people including the UN Secretary-general's special Iraqi envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Zarqawi was formerly reported to have lost a leg in a US missile strike, although the U.S. military now believes Zarqawi still has both legs. The nature of this report has changed a great deal over time. Early in 2002, there were unverified reports from Northern Alliance members that Zarqawi had been killed by a missile attack in Afghanistan. Many news sources repeated the claim.
Later, Kurdish groups claimed that Zarqawi had not died in the missile strike, but had been severely injured, and went to Baghdad in 2002 to have his leg amputated. On October 7, 2002, the day before Congress voted to give the President permission to go to war against Iraq, President Bush gave a speech in Cincinnati, Ohio that repeated this claim as fact. This was Bush's primary example of ways Saddam Hussein had purportedly aided al-Qaida. Powell repeated this claim in his famous speech to the UN, urging a resolution for war, and it soon became "common knowledge" that Zarqawi had a prosthetic leg.
When the video of the beheading of Nick Berg was released, credence was given to the claim that Zarqawi was alive and active. The man identified as Zarqawi in the video did not appear to have a prosthetic leg. The U.S. military has since admitted that claims of Zarqawi's missing leg were part of a disinformation campaign.
In March 2004, an insurgent group in Iraq issued a statement that said Zarqawi had been killed in 2002. The statement said that he was unable to escape the missile attack because of his prosthetic leg. No evidence was provided.
- GlobalSecurity.org's page on Jamaat al-Tawhid wa'l-Jihad
- National Security Council possible failures (NBC report, March 2, 2004)
- CBS news report
- Newsweek article about Zarqawi
- New York Times biography
- Zarqawi Related Beheading Videos
- MSNBC article on the Iraqi insurgency
- Asia Times: Zarqawi - Bush's man for all seasons
- Photos of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (Rewards for Justice)
- Detailed timeline of supposed Zarqawi-Saddam link claims - Center for Cooperative Research
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