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Biography of al-Zarqawi

Al-Zarqawi: Head of Al Qaeda in Iraq

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi led al-Qaeda in Iraq until 7 June 2006 when he was killed by an air strike on a "safe house" 55 miles north of Baghdad. He was born in Jordan in 1966. He developed a hatred for the Jordanian Monarchy and was dedicated to its overthrow. A Muslim fanatic, he chose many enemies, especially what he viewed as the decadent west. He saw the U.S. 2001 invasion of Iraq as an oportunity to fight directly against the United States.

Sketch of al-Zarqawi

Ahmed Fadhil Nazar al-Khalaylah was his given name. He was a member of the Bani Hassan tribe. He named himself after his hometown of Zarqa (a mining town). Reports have it that he had a troubled youth, dropping out of school and often being drunk and disorderly. He went to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight the Soviets and while there learned all about guerilla warfare, insurgency, and terrorism. On his return he formed a fundamentalist group called Jund al-Sham. He was jailed for his activities in Jordan in 1992 and was locked away for seven years.

Even though he was released by an amnesty of the King, al-Zarqawi did not soften his stance on the monarchy. In fact, it was at this time that he attempted to commit terror attacks on several tourist areas in Jordan. However, his attempts were detected and he fled to Pakistan. When the Pakistanis wanted to return him home, he crossed over into Afghanistan. It was in Afghanistan that he met al-Qaeda. He became close with bin Laden, who supplied him money to set up a training camp in Afghanistan. This attracted many disaffected Jordanians. As the de facto leader of Jordanians in al-Qaeda, he attempted to attack both Israel and Jews in Germany. Again, his attacks ended in failure.

When he first went to Iraq to lead the al-Qaeda forces there, he was shot in the chest and broke three ribs in a firefight. He escaped from Iraq into Iran with many of his followers on false passports while Saddam was still in power. After the downfall of Saddam Hussein, al-Zarqawi became somewhat of a nomad, roaming between countries close to Iraq. This both facilitated his leadership of a disperate organization and made him difficult to track down by authorities. Meanwhile he continued his activities in Jordan, organizing the assassination of a U.S. diplomat, Laurence M. Foley. He was also involved in the Madrid train bombings that had significant effect on Spanish elections in 2004.

Al-Zarqawi first came to notice in the press in 2003 when he was mentioned by Colin Powell as the main leader of al-Qaeda forces in Iraq.1 Activities inside and outside Iraq coupled with his new-found notoriety gave al-Zarqawi growing power within the al-Qaeda organization. Although al-Qaeda was very loosely put together, his energy and activity impressed other operatives and made him even more important. After 2003 he was intensively hunted, not only by coalition forces, but by the Jordanian intelligence service. He attempted to destroy Jordan's intelligence head quarters with a huge bomb in 2004. The bomb was alleged to contain chemical agents that could have killed or wounded as many as 80,000 people. The attack failed. He also organized an untold number of terrorist acts in Iraq (both successful and not). He was a hero to some extremists, but his persistent virulent terrorism made him feared and hated by many more. By the time of his demise there was a $25 million bounty on his head.

It is thought that the Jordanian Intelligence service tipped off U.S. military intelligence as to his whereabouts on 7 June 2006. A surgical airstrike was called and al-Zarqawi was killed with his spirtual advisor, Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Iraqi as well as four other people.

The death of al-Zarqawi did not bring peace to the region. There were still many groups involved in the Iraqi Insurgency. The war would go on. As a kind of epitaph, on hearing the news of al-Zarqawi's death President George W. Bush said, "It is a severe blow to al-Qaeda and it is a significant victory in the war on terror." Tony Blair, prime minister of Britain, put it, "al-Zarqawi's death was a strike against al-Qaeda in Iraq and therefore a strike against al-Qaeda everywhere."2 Both were constrained to point out that the Insurgency was by no means over.


  1. Washington Post
  2. Fox News


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