AP: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, carried out some of the bloodiest suicide attacks in Iraq and led a campaign of kidnappings and hostage beheadings until he was killed in a U.S. bombing Thursday. Associated Press
By PATRICK QUINN
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, carried out some of the bloodiest suicide attacks in Iraq and led a campaign of kidnappings and hostage beheadings until he was killed in a U.S. bombing Thursday. He was the apparent victim of his own hubris after Iraqi leaders said a video he put on the web helped lead them to him.
The immediate impact of his death on the insurgency was unclear.
Al-Zarqawi was the most prominent of the insurgency’s leaders, but his strength within the movement was never certain. Homegrown Sunni Iraqi guerrillas are believed to have had as important a role in the fight against U.S. forces and the new Iraqi government.
Still, al-Zarqawi was behind the most vicious of the bloody wave of attacks that has helped turn the swift U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 into a grueling counter-insurgency fight.
The Jordanian-born militant is believed to have personally beheaded at least two American hostages, Nicholas Berg in April 2004 and Eugene Armstrong in September 2004. The United States put a $25 million bounty on his head, the same amount as al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
In the past year, he moved his campaign beyond Iraq’s borders, carrying out a Nov. 9, 2005 triple suicide bombing against hotels in Amman that killed 60 people, as well as other attacks in Jordan and even a rocket attack from Lebanon into northern Israel.
He also sought to expand his attempts to spark civil war between Sunni Muslims and Shiites across the Middle East. He lectured Sunnis to stand up against Shiites in an audiotape posted on the Web last week in which he railed against Shiites for four hours, calling them enemies of Islam.
In April, he released a videotape showing his face for the first time in an apparent attempt to reinforce his image as the leader of Iraq’s insurgents and a hero to Sunni extremists across the region.
Iraqi officials said Thursday that tape helped lead U.S. and Iraqi forces to al-Zarqawi.
Born Ahmad Fadhil Nazzal al-Khalayleh on Oct. 20, 1966, al-Zarqawi rose from a tough street life in the Jordanian industrial town of Zarqa – from which he eventually took his nom de guerre. He solidified his Islamic radical ideology while in a Jordanian prison in the late 1990s.
After being released in an amnesty, al-Zarqawi went in 1999 to Afghanistan, where he formed links with bin Laden. He fled during the U.S.-led war that ousted the Taliban in late 2001, passing through Iran to Iraq, according to U.S. officials and militant biographies of al-Zarqawi posted on the Web.
In late 2003, his name began to emerge as the leader of the group “Tawhid and Jihad” or “Monotheism and Holy War.” In October 2004, the group announced on the Internet that it had sworn allegiance to al-Qaida and the “father of all fighters” – or bin Laden – and changed its name to al-Qaida in Iraq. Bin Laden endorsed al-Zarqawi as his deputy in Iraq in an audiotape in December.
His group, Al-Qaida in Iraq, claimed to have carried out some of the most prominent and bloody suicide attacks. Among them were two August 2003 blasts that were seen as marking the start of the insurgency: one against the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22 people, including the top U.N. envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the other against a Shiite shrine in Najaf that killed more than 85, including Shiite leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim.
Shiites – including civilians and mosques – were a frequent target of al-Qaida in Iraq. A February 2005 attack against Iraqi security recruits in the mainly Shiite town of Hillah killed 125 people.