Who is al-Zarqawi?

In the '80s he was influenced by the radical Islam of the Salafist-Jihadist movement developing in Jordan.

zarqawi 88 (photo credit: )
zarqawi 88
(photo credit: )
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of the "al-Qaida Jihad" branch in Iraq, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings in Amman and Sinai, has an account to settle with Jordan, according to a leading counter-terrorism researcher. Jordanian-born Zarqawi was imprisoned there from 1994 to 1999, and pardoned by King Abdullah, relates Dr. Yoram Kahati, a senior researcher at the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at Glilot, and a research fellow at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism, the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. Zarqawi, who became leader of the al-Qaida branch in Iraq at the end of 2004, views Iraq and the region as launchpad for his jihad. He identifies with the Palestinians and sees the region as the site where the decisive battle between Muslims and infidels will occur. According to a lecture by Kahati on Zarqawi delivered at a Dayan Center seminar on "The Ideological Roots of Jihad," Zarqawi has asserted that the liberation of Jerusalem, considered the third most important religious site to Islam, is a high priority for him. Ahmad Fadheel Nazaal al-Khalaylah (whose nom de guerre is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), was born in Zarqa, Jordan in 1966. Growing up in a slum, the local cemetery was his playground. He was considered a rebellious child, and because of his attitude was kept back in school and eventually turned into a juvenile delinquent. In the '80s he was influenced by the radical Islam of the Salafist-Jihadist movement developing in Jordan, especially in the Zarqa area. He was especially captivated by heroic stories he heard in the local mosque about the operations of the Afghan Arabs (a term used to describe various Muslim Arabs) who joined the jihad against the Soviet Union. In 1989 the Jordanian government permitted Zarqawi to leave for Afghanistan. He arrived in the final days of the war, initially lived in Khost where he met veteran "Afghan Jordanians" and later moved to Peshawar. He became a devout Moslem and then moved to Afghanistan. There, he received ideological and operational training at the Sada camp established by Abdallah Azzam, who died in a car bombing in 1989. At first Zarqawi opted to act alone and did not join al-Qaida. He returned to Jordan in 1993, and became involved in Islamic activist action directed against the late King Hussein's legislative efforts and later against the peace process between Jordan and Israel. He was imprisoned in 1994, and during his confinement devoted his time to a rigid physical regimen and Koran studies. He eventually became the prisoners' leader and established an ideology stressing that the unity of Allah is absolute and serves as the foundation for the creation of a unified Islamic society based on the establishment of a strict adherence to Islamic sharia (religious law) in all areas of life. Any individual opposing it is considered an infidel deserving death. In 1999, after his release, he was once again permitted to travel to Afghanistan. At the time he intended to join the Muslim insurgency in Chechnya, but he was detained in Pakistan because his visa had expired. His passport was confiscated and the Pakistanis insisted he return to Jordan, but he eventually made his way to Afghanistan. At the beginning of 2002, he met Osama bin Laden in Kandahar, but rejected an offer to join al-Qaida and pursue a jihad against the United States. However he accepted an offer by bin Laden's head of security to set up a training camp at Herat. The camp became his stronghold and it was there he took up his nom de guerre and became the leader of the Afghan Arabs who trained in the camp and were known as the Jund al Sham (the army of greater Syria). Following the US bombings in Afghanistan in 2001, Zarqawi fled to Pakistan. From there, the women and children were sent to Turkey and the men to Iran. At the beginning of 2002, as an apparent result of US pressure, the Iranians closed his bases and some of his followers were arrested. Zarqawi moved to northern Iraq, in an area controlled by Islamist Kurdish supporters and set up two training bases. When Iraq was occupied by the US and coalition allies in 2003, Zarqawi abandoned his goal to overthrow regimes in the Middle East starting with Jordan, and became one of the key figures in declaring a jihad against the US and coalition forces, and locals who collaborated with them. His name was also linked to the lethal attacks attributed to al-Qaida operatives in Casablanca in May 2003 and Madrid in March 2004. In spring of 2003, Zarqawi emerged as the leader of the jihad in Iraq. In 2004 he wrote two tracts, one of which was found in his personal computer and according to the contents was sent to bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. The second was written in April and sent over the Internet, which he signed as the voice calling to the Islamic nation. In the message, he explained his great hatred of the Americans and declared that he approved of spilling their blood as well as that of Muslims in Iraq, particularly the Shiites. He became involved in numerous suicide and car bomb attacks, for which he took responsibility. The attacks were mainly carried out in the Sunni triangle that centers around Fallujah and also in the Baghdad district. At the end of 2004, even bin Laden referred to Zarqawi as the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, transforming him from the leader of a local Islamic group to a representative of the head of global jihad. In addition to his hatred for the United States, he obviously hates Israel and the Jews. In his opinion, the US occupation of Iraq was caused by a government "infected with Zionism" whose aim was to support its Jewish "favorite country" to establish a "Greater Israel." According to Zarqawi, one of the Shiite goals in Iraq is to take control of the economy the way the Jews have internationally. Zarqawi is convinced that the success of the jihad in Iraq will serve as a model for the activity of his organization and others in the international arena. Victory of the jihad in Iraq will serve as a springboard for turning Saudi Arabia and "greater Syria" which includes Palestine into an optimal arena for a regional jihad,. This includes the area where the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is taking place, which will in turn serve as the ultimate base for waging global jihad. In that context it should be noted that Zarqawi's jihad is also aimed at Arab rulers he considers infidels because their countries serve as "supply bases" for "the American airplanes of destruction." (The full article appears on the Intelligence and Terror Information Center website.)