Portrait of al-Zarqawi
39 year-old Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the husband of three wives and father of four children and the chief of al-Qaeda in Iraq, was killed Wednesday evening in a US air strike. Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki and US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad announced the news on Thursday morning, June 8th, in Baghdad. Zarqawi, killed near Baquba, north of Baghdad, was idenfitied “by fingerprints, his face and his scars”, said General George Casey, Commander of the Multinational Force in Iraq.
Zarqawi was “eliminated”, according to the Iraqi Prime Minister, along with seven of his companions during a joint US-Iraqi military operation. What happened today is the result of the cooperation of the Iraqi people. This is a message to all those who have chosen the path of violence, so that they can change course before it is too late.
The US Ambassador, flanking Mr. Maliki, congratulated the success of the mission. Zarqawi is responsible for the deaths of thousands of persons in Iraq and abroad. His death is a step in the right direction for Iraq and the global war on terrorism.
The journey of Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, in reality Fadel Nazzal al-Khalayleh, begins on 20 October 1966 in the town of Zarka, Jordan, 20 km from the capital, Amman. Zarka is a bastion of Salafism, a radical branch of Islam, which Fadel will join when he becomes a “warrior for Allah”. His parents are Bedouins.
But the real journey of Zarqawi along the bloody path of Jihadism will begin, for him as for many other men of his generation, in Afghanistan in the 1980’s. It is there, in the war aginst the Soviet Army, that Jihadists from the world over would assemble. It is there, on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, in Peshawar, that a young Saudi, Osama bin Laden, will create an organization that will become the worldwide Jihadist movement, al-Qaeda.
The habitually unemployed young man of Zarqa, a tattooed street tough and a brawler, will find a purpose in life. He loves war and has charisma. Bassel Ichak Abu Sabha, the prison doctor in Jafer, says that once having become a Jihadist, he obliterated his tattoo, a navy anchor adorning the body of a young and impious man, with acid.
Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi returned to Jordan at the beginning of the 1990's. In 1991, he joins the extremist Salafist group, al-Tawhid wal-Hejra-al Mouwahideen (the Uniters). He was arrested in 1994 and thrown into prison. It is there that he perfects his profile as a Jihadist, finds refuge in the Coran and hones his profile as an “emir” – a leader of men. But he is considered dangerous and the inmate population fears him. He commands the jail. Prisoners recount that he would personally carry a man who lost both his legs in the premature explosion of a bomb he was placing outside a cinema to the bath and wash him. Granted amnesty in 1999, he again embarks on the road to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Having become a Taliban “emir” and a member of the al-Qaeda base, it is in Afghanistan where he is presented to “Sheikh” Osama bin Laden.
The two men do not see things the same way. Bin Laden wants to strike the West and Saudi Arabia. Zarqawi cultivates his hatred for Israel and for the Shi’ites. Tolerated by al-Qaeda without ever becoming a leader, he builds his own military training camps in the north of the country, near Herat.
After September 11, 2001, and the US invasion, when the Jihadists are forced to flee Afghanistan, Zarqawi chooses an exit through Iran, then transits Kurdistan. He is also accused of having planned the assassination in Amman of US diplomat Laurence Foley in 2002.
But the journey of Zarqawi as an uncontested Jihadist leader begins in Iraq. He claims credit for the first bombings, most notably that targeting the headquarters of the UN in Baghdad in August 2003. He is very quickly distinguished through his cruelty. He is identified by the CIA in video recordings of decapitation of Western hostages. He then intensifies his bloody attacks on the Shi’ite community.
Despite persistent political differences with Bin Laden, he is finally recognized by al-Qaeda as head of its operations in Iraq. For the former Jordanian street tough, it is a consecration. The US puts a price on his head of 25 million dollars, the same bounty offered for Bin Laden.
But now we have a different consecration: an end to killing.