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Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Last Updated: 2:05am BST 09/06/2006
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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.


He was 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 month.

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".

Though 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 fiction.

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 in Jordan.

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 inherited wealth.

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.

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