This past February we posted a link to the Wall Street Journal’s profile of the Islamofascist terrorist with the nom de guerre containing the usual “Daddy” prefix and ending with Zarqawi. The Journal reports that his real name is Ahmad Fadil Nazzal Al-Khalayleh. Now that he has returned to the news as the probable butcher of Nicholas Berg, we should take another look at the Journal’s profile: “Long in U.S. sights, a young terrorist builds grim resume.”
In some respects, it’s a little difficult to follow the guy’s train of thought. The story quotes him making the mandatory wish for ruination to Bush, but in terms I’ve never seen before: “O God, destroy the rule of Bush, just as you did with Caesar.” This can certainly be read as just one more terrorist endorsement of the president’s Democratic rivals, but is it really fair to invoke Brutus as an instrument of Allah?
The story reconstructs Zarqawi’s travels, focusing on the period since 1999, through six months of interviews with intelligence and security officials in the U.S., Middle East and Europe, and from court documents and government reports. The single most striking feature of the Journal’s report is the porousness of the margins between the terrorist groups at war with America. The Kerry mantra that the war against Saddam Hussein was a distraction from our war against al Qaeda could not be more mistaken. Consider the following narrative of Zarqawi’s travels:
The U.S. claims that while in Pakistan in 1999, Mr. Zarqawi contacted al Qaeda members and asked for help training Jordanians. He crossed into Afghanistan and met senior al Qaeda leaders in Kandahar. Intelligence officials suspect he wanted to develop his own group dedicated to overthrowing the Jordanian monarchy. Though his father had once worked for Zarqa’s local government, Mr. Zarqawi considered the Jordanian regime insufficiently Islamic, the officials say.
Soon he began creating his own network of followers. In late 2000, officials say, he established a training camp near Herat, in western Afghanistan, far from al Qaeda’s Kandahar base. Soon other Jordanians began to arrive, according to U.S. intelligence reports, many from his large, poor tribe, the Bani Hassan. Mr. Zarqawi controlled a route for bringing men into Afghanistan, according to interrogation reports arising from the 2002 arrest in Germany of a Zarqawi follower named Shadi Abdellah. Recruits made their way to the eastern Iranian city of Mashhad and then were smuggled to Herat, about 300 miles away.
In need of funds, Mr. Zarqawi drew closer to al Qaeda’s leadership, a move that meant broadening his focus beyond Jordan. In mid-2001 he visited Kandahar and was given $35,000 by al Qaeda along with a promise of more if he organized attacks against Israel, according to a 2003 U.S. Treasury report, which cited summaries of interrogations of al Qaeda leaders. Later in 2001, a senior Israeli intelligence official says, Mr. Zarqawi sent followers on missions to mount attacks in Israel, though they were arrested in Turkey before they arrived.
Mr. Zarqawi next formed an alliance with a group of exiled religious Iraqi Kurds, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern intelligence officials. The Iraqis, many of them veterans of Afghanistan, had founded Ansar al Islam, a fundamentalist group that hoped to establish an Islamic enclave in Iraq’s mountainous north, where a haven for Kurds had been set up in 1991. Ansar succeeded in carving out a small sanctuary near Khurmal, a few miles from the Iraq-Iran border. Intelligence officials say that Ansar’s leaders invited other veterans of Afghanistan — possibly including Mr. Zarqawi — to join them in Iraq.
The timing proved fortuitous for Mr. Zarqawi because he soon needed a new home. The U.S. had invaded Afghanistan a few months earlier. On Dec. 12, 2001, in a telephone conversation monitored by German authorities, Mr. Abdellah in Germany told a Zarqawi lieutenant that “Habib” — an alias used by Mr. Zarqawi — had been badly wounded in the leg and stomach in a U.S. attack. The Herat group was preparing to flee to Iran and had arranged for $40,000 to be transferred from Tehran to Germany for the purchase of fake passports, according to reports of Mr. Abdellah’s interrogation.
Nearly 30 passports were smuggled into Tehran for Zarqawi and his followers, who arrived from Afghanistan in late December, according to the interrogation reports. Mr. Zarqawi’s group then split up. Some headed to Chechnya, and others remained in Iran. Their plan was to regroup in northern Iraq, according to Lorenzo Vidino, an analyst with the Investigative Project, a terrorism research organization in Washington.
Mr. Zarqawi didn’t get far because of his injured leg. For several months he operated from Iran, according to U.S. officials and European intelligence documents. He planned several attacks, with frustrating results. Mr. Zarqawi, using the codename “Muhannad,” made dozens of calls from Iran to Mr. Abdellah and other followers, who were allegedly planning attacks against Jewish targets in Germany. Mr. Zarqawi grew worried that the plot might be uncovered.
“Listen, the longer it takes, the harder it will be for you. So try to hurry things up,” Mr. Zarqawi said, according to a translated excerpt of a cellphone conversation cited in a German police report. Mr. Zarqawi’s warnings were justified; German police arrested Mr. Abdellah and his cohorts in late April 2002.
Whether the Iranian government condoned Mr. Zarqawi’s presence in their country is unknown. But a counterterrorism official at the FBI says he believes that Mr. Zarqawi established covert ties to Iranian officials that enabled him to stay. Mr. Abdellah told German police that Mr. Zarqawi had the tacit support of Iranian officials, according to German police reports.
At the time, Iran was being warned by U.S. officials not to give sanctuary to al Qaeda members. Diplomatic and intelligence officials suspect Mr. Zarqawi was one of dozens of al Qaeda suspects rounded up or quietly expelled. Iran disclosed recently that it had expelled Mr. Zarqawi’s nephew, Umar Jamil al-Khalayleh, around this time because they suspected that he had ties to al Qaeda.
After the crackdown, Mr. Zarqawi moved to Iraq, looking for a safe haven. In May, he turned up in Baghdad seeking medical treatment, U.S. officials later learned. He had his leg amputated and was fitted with an artificial limb.
While he was recuperating in Baghdad, new recruits — some Zarqawi followers — were converging on northern Iraq. The CIA traced half a dozen satellite phones used in northern Iraq by suspected Islamic militants. Among them, according to information provided to Italian officials by the CIA, was a number belonging to Abu Taisir, 33, who is believed to be a Jordanian relative of Mr. Zarqawi’s.
Please read the whole thing.
UPDATE: With respect to my difficulties following Zarqawi’s train of thought, reader Michael Schwenk writes:
What’s going on here is the tendency of Islamists to compare their struggles against the U.S. to those of the Arab armies led by the successors of Muhammad that first attacked the outposts of the Byzantine Empire in the 8th Century. (Incidentally, these outposts were in modern Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Iran.) We call them the Byzantines, but they quite properly referred to themselves as Romans, and thought of themselves as a direct extension of the Roman Empire. Hence, the Byzantine emperor was Caesar. The chroniclers of their Arab enemies understood them as such.