Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born terrorist
who was killed yesterday in an American air strike near Baqubah,
Iraq, aged 39, was America's second most wanted outlaw after
Osama bin Laden.
Al-Zarqawi was thrust into the international
spotlight before the US-led invasion of Iraq when the American
Secretary of State Colin Powell denounced him as part of a
"sinister nexus" between Iraq and the al-Qa'eda
guerrilla network and cited his presence in Baghdad as evidence that
Iraq's president Saddam Hussein had formed an alliance with
al-Qa'eda, a claim that became a major part of the coalition
case for war.
Well before the September 11 attacks on America
in 2001, al-Zarqawi concocted a plot to kill Israeli and American
tourists in Jordan. He was also accused of being the mastermind
behind numerous shadowy terrorist groups on four continents. In Iraq
his mission was not only to destroy the occupation forces, but also
to ignite civil war between Sunni and Shia Iraqis.
implicated in a series of atrocities including the beheading of the
British engineer, Ken Bigley, in October 2004. The CIA also accused
al-Zarqawi of involvement in the Madrid railway station bombings of
March 2004, and bombings of Shia worshippers in Iraq the same
Despite his notoriety, al-Zarqawi remained a mystery
for most of his career as a terrorist leader identified with the
Sunni tradition of Islam. A master of disguise and bogus identities,
he was so secretive that even many of his collaborators did not know
what he looked like.
Some reports alleged that he had lost a leg; others denied the
claim. A "wanted" poster issued by the American government
listed his height and weight as "unknown".
he was often linked to al-Qa'eda, al-Zarqawi was essentially a
"lone wolf" and some experts suggest that claims about his
influence were greatly exaggerated. Since most of what is known
about him derives from the conflicting accounts of enemies and
supporters, it is often difficult to discern the truth from the
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (his nomme de guerre), was born
on October 20 1966 to an impoverished Palestinian family in a slum
neighbourhood of Zarqa, a dusty mining town 17 miles north of Amman
His real name was Ahmed Fadeel Nazal al-Khalayleh.
Al-Zarqawi's father, Fadel, was a retired soldier and respected
elder in the Bani Hassan tribe, one of Jordan's largest clans,
which straddles many borders in the Middle East. Al-Zarqawi's
bloodline was from the poorer side of the Bani Hassan, with no
As a boy, he was brought up in a cement
breeze-block-built house surrounded by mosques. As a teenager, he
rebelled against his strict upbringing, and in his home town he was
remembered as a juvenile delinquent who had little to do with
religion, despite a strict Islamic upbringing.
He became a street fighter, drank alcohol, visited bars, and was
once arrested for carrying drugs.
Little is known of
al-Zarqawi's education, except that he dropped out of secondary
school and was barely literate.
When he was 20, he went to Afghanistan to join the Mujahideen
fighting the Soviet Army. There, he was trained in guerrilla
warfare, learned about chemical weapons, and came into occasional
contact with Osama bin Laden.
Returning to Jordan in 1991
after the Soviet withdrawal, he worked for the local town council as
a technician, and joined the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which merged
with al-Qa'eda in 1998. He also associated himself with Hizab
ut Tahrir, an angry anti-Semitic splinter group devoted to the
restoration of an Islamic theocracy.
Arrested and jailed for
plotting to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy in 1992, al-Zarqawi was
released under a royal amnesty in 1999. While in prison, he fell
under the spell of an extremist cleric, Abu Muhammed al-Maqdisi, the
inspiration for a lorry bombing of American servicemen in Saudi
Arabia in 1996.