Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi is one of the most wanted and most dangerous men in the world. Although his name is not as commonly known as Osama bin Laden, it is al-Zarqawi and not bin Laden who has been linked to almost every international terrorist attack since September 11, 2001
Al-Zarqawi was born Ahmed Fadeel Nazzal al-Khalayleh on the 30th of October 1966, in Zarka, a city about 15 miles north of Amman in Jordan. A Jordanian of Palestinian extraction, is believed to have fought with the Mujihadeen against the Russians in Afghanistan. Like many others, it is there he became trained in explosives manufacturing, poisons, and other military tactics.
He first entered the world stage in 1999, when Jordan arrested a cell plotting a bomb attack on the Radison hotel to coincide with millennium celebrations. His was tried in absentia and found guilty. His whereabouts up to that time are unclear, but it is likely that he spent some time studying in Pakistan, where, in the 1990s, he made initial contact with the al-Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan. He recruited his own men which were then trained in al-Qaeda camps. Then, intelligence services now believe that he spent some time in Europe with a base in Britain, until he returned to Afghanistan in 2000. He set up his own training camp this time, in Herat.
Certainly, al-Zarqawi was on the ground in Herat when the US-led bombing campaign began in October 2001. In November, he was injured by a bomb and fled to Iran. Here, he set up again and began directing attacks there, dispatching a small terrorist squad to Israel, which was intercepted by Turkish security. He remained in Iran until about May 2002, when he went to Iraq. There his leg was amputated in hospital and a prosthetic was fitted. But it's now that things get a little complicated.
The Jordanian government got wind that al-Zarqawi was in Iraq, so tried to extradite him. He fled to Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, where he joined with Ansar al-Islam, a newly formed Islamist group. He helped organise Ansar into a more effective organisation, and added it to his personal network. Ansar helped him across the border to Turkey, where he probably made contact with the IDBA-C. He went to Syria and Lebanon, and met with Hizbullah - the first meeting between the Shiite and Sunni international terror groups.
On October 28, 2002, Laurence Foley, a US diplomat, was assassinated in Amman. In December, those arrested for the killing admitted being dispatched by al-Zarqawi from Syria.
A couple of weeks later, a number of Algerians were arrested in London and Manchester for attempting to make the biotoxin ricin. A link to al-Zarqawi was strongly suggested; these may have been people he recruited during his time in the UK.
In June 2003, al-Zarqawi was announced to be among a number of al-Qaeda-linked militants captured inside Iran by the Iranian security services. Iran neither confirmed or denied this, but shortly afterward, reports began to emerge that al-Zarqawi had been seen on the ground in Iraq. His group was almost certainly behind the bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad on August 7, 2003. It has been suggested that he was operating under Iranian protection.
A bombing campaign in Istanbul in November 2003 caused the death of the British Consul-General, the destruction of a historic synagogue, and many more deaths and injuries. The Turkish IDBA-C claimed the attacks, as did an al-Qaeda affiliate. Later investigation showed that the attacks were likely a joint operation, co-ordinated by al-Zarkawi who may well have been in Turkey during the attacks.
Al-Zarqawi resurfaced again on January 6, 2004, in a RealAudio recording hidden on a website paid for with a stolen credit card. In what is believed to be his first recorded statement, he eulogised a friend, attacked muslim states for failing to aid the Taleban, and attacked George W. Bush.
On February 12, 2004 The Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq released a letter which it claimed to have found in a raid on a safe house in Baghdad. The letter was from al-Zarqawi, and seemed to be addressed to senior al-Qaeda figures. It laid out a plan of action in Iraq which focused on hitting the Shi'ite population, calling them the enemy and effectively non-Muslims. Particularly telling was the following line:
"As for the Shi`a, we will hurt them, God willing, through martyrdom operations and car bombs."
Since then, the massacre of 143 Shi'ite worshippers in Karbala and Baghdad on March 3, 2004 in multiple co-ordinated attacks by non-Iraqis was linked to al-Zarqawi
However, the next day, March the 4th, a statement was released by a number of Iraqi insurgent groups claiming that al-Zarqawi was killed in the Coalition bombing of Ansar al-Islam almost a year earlier, at the beginning of the war. They claimed the letter was a forgery and that the attacks on the Shi'ites were organised by the USA. His alleged death, however, has since been shown to almost certainly be false.
The terrorist attacks in Madrid that took place on March 11, 2004 killed more that 200 people. Many of the suspects are Moroccan, associated with terror cells there, and several are directly linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. As Europe is his field of operation, it seems likely that he was involved with the organisations that carried out the bombings at least, and possibly even the planning stage of the attack.
In April 2004, al-Zarqawi was linked to a foiled plot to conduct a mega-terror attack in Jordan, involving several explosives-laden trucks and chemial vats. He confirmed his invovement in another Realaudio statement, published on a Malaysian-based Qaeda web-server - though he claimed the attack was only to use conventional explosives rather than noxious chemicals.
On May 11th, 2004, a post appeared on a Jihad-related website hosted in the same datacenter (and probably the same computer) that claimed to show a video of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi beheading an American. The Realplayer file, also hosted in the datacenter, showed the execution of Nicholas Berg. While the voice on the video was not immediately identified as al-Zarqawi, CIA officials believe that it was he who wielded the knife. In the wake of the execution, the Malaysian al-Qaeda sites were disabled.
On May 17, 2004 Izzedine Salim, the head of the Iraqi Governing Council, was killed in a car-bombing attack by al-Zarqawi's group.
Since then, they have beheaded a South Korean hostage, complete with online video footage. alZarqawi himself has issued a number of statements, rejecting the authority of the new Iraqi government and calling for the death of Prime minister Iyad Allawi.
In another twist, on July 6, 2004 a group calling itself the Salvation Movement appeared on tape on al-Arabiya news, calling for al-Zarqawi to leave Iraq or be killed.
The controversial part of this tale is the Iraq link. Colin Powell mentioned al-Zarqawi in his speech to the United Nations justifying the War on Iraq 2003. He considered his presence in Iraq proof of a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. This claim is weak, simply because it is too circumstantial. However, whether or not al-Zarqawi was Saddam's friend is a little academic now.
al-Zarqawi is currently the head of an organisation known as Al-Tahwir, dedicated to bringing down the Jordanian Monarchy, as well as Jund al-Shams, his Afghan group, Jumu'at al-Tawid wa'al Jihad in Iraq, and many others. About 150 of his network are believed to have been arrested. He has changed his appearance several times, and the USA are currently offering a $10m reward for his capture.