Saturday, October 09, 2004

Who is this Zarqawi?

PV Vivekanand

ABU MUSAB AL Zarqawi. The name has become synonymous with extremism and militancy in the Middle East. Indeed, anything and everything that is happening in Iraq is blamed on Zarqawi these days. He has become the Americans' bogeyman in Iraq.
Behind the media headlines, Internet and television images, and statements attributed to him, many in the region are wondering whether Zarqawi is indeed alive and is really the larger than life person that he is being made out to be. Some even suggest that Zarqawi's name is used by American intelligence to serve its own purposes.
Mideast experts are puzzled why Zarqawi should be executing hostages since he or his group does not benefit from such actions. The only party that benefits from such killings is Israel since it paints Muslims in a bad light in the international scene. Any thought in this direction takes the entire debate in a different direction — that somehow Israel's Mossad is involved in claiming hostage killings on behalf of Zarqawi.
But then, in this part of the world such theories have always found fertile ground, and many simply find Israeli conspiracies under every rock.
Let us assume, for clarity sake, that Zarqawi is alive, is leading the insurgency in Iraq and is behind the kidnapping and killing of hostages.
The last sighting of Zarqawi, according to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), came in a video clip showing the "execution" of American hostage Nicholas Berg on the Internet. The clipping did have a title saying: "Sheikh Abu Musab Zarqawi slaughters an American infidel."
How did the CIA reach that conclusion that it was indeed Zarqawi? Is there some equipment that "positively identifies" faces through thick masks appearing on cyber images? That is something new, I should admit. But then, Zarqawi, as far as we are told, does not have a leg and hops around on an artificial limb (thanks to Saddam Hussein, who, the CIA said at one point, allowed him to have that fitted at a Baghdad hospital some years ago). Again, as far as we could see, none of the masked figures appearing on the infamous Berg clipping was seen limping. Zarqawi is also described as left handed by his family while he is shown using his right hand to cut Berg's throat.
Then again, some American reports have said that the report of him having lost a limb was "misinformation" and that Zarqawi has both legs.
The latest revelation about Zarqawi, who is in his mid-30s, who was born Ahmed Khalayleh in Jordan, is that he had never been a member of Al Qaeda; nor has he sworn allegiance to Osama Bin Laden although he shares Bin Laden's militant ideology.
This is the assertion made by an unidentfified source — an "Islamist Arab — who is said to have "recently" met Zarqawi in the Iraqi town of Fallujah, according to an interview carried by the respected London-based, Saudi-owned Al Hayat Arabic-language daily.
Al Hayat quoted the source as saying in reply to a question whether Zarqawi and Bin Laden were linked with each other:
"I wish that he (Zarqawi) was an Al Qaeda representative in Iraq. But the truth is that Zarqawi has his own organisation. He is not an Qaeda member and has no connection to Sheikh Osama (Bin Laden). They only employ the same method.
"There is no organisational connection between them – on the contrary, many Arab youth have said that they will swear allegiance to Zarqawi provided that he swear allegiance to Sheikh Osama. They say that so far he has not sworn allegiance, and that he used to say: 'to this day I have not sworn allegiance to Sheikh Osama and I am not acting in the framework of his organisation..'.."
The assertion of the source fitted in with the view of seasoned observers in the retion that Bin Laden and Zarqawi were not working together.
Reports have spoken about how Zarqawi went to Afghanistan in late 80s, but was disappointed that the Soviet army had by then left that country, worked as a writer before returning to Jordan where he was imprisoned for several years because of suspected links with Bin Laden.
However, observers and analysts say that there has never been any evidence that Bin Laden had enlisted Zarqawi in is Al Qaeda group.
Those who knew Zarqawi in prison in Jordan say he was too independent-minded to affiliate himself with Bin Laden.
Zarqawi went back to Pakistan/Afghanistan in late 1999 and stayed there but he operated his own group based in Peshawar in Pakistan and in Kandahar in Afghanistan where he had his own camp unconnected with Al Qaeda. No one has reported seeing Zarqawi and Bin Laden together.
Zarqawi has never claimed to speak on behalf of Al Qaeda; he has said he leads the Al Tawhid Wa'Al Jihad organisation, which he calls an independent group dedicated to "replace Arab regimes" with Islamist leaders.
Zarqawi was tried in absentia in Jordan for the murder of American diplomat Lawrence Foley in October 2002 and sentenced to death. The prosecution argued that he visited Jordan on a forged passport, set up the murder, paid more than $70,000 to the actual assassins and left the kingdom two weeks before the murder.


In the interview carried by Al Hayat, the unidentified source made the following points (Pls note the quotes and unquotes):
Zarqawi believes that "we are fighting in Iraq but our eyes are raised not only to Iraq but also to other places, such as Jerusalem." He "has a strategy and an aspiration to expand the fighting to the entire region."
Zarqawi "came to this arena only to expel the Americans from the Muslims' country (Iraq) and to establish an Islamic government. This is part of the goal, because if this is not done, how will we be able to bring about coups d'etat in neighboring countries? How can we rescue Jerusalem when we have no base from which to set out? Rescuing Jerusalem and the neighbouring countries will come only after the rise of an Islamic state from which the youth will set out to liberate the neighboring areas."
On killing of hostages, according to the source, "Zarqawi is convinced that his operations are permitted by Shari'a [Islamic law], and that the hostages are not truly hostages. There is a difference between a hostage and a spy or a captive. The sentence for spies is death. But there is some dispute about how it is to be carried out – by the sword or by shooting."
According to the source, Zarqawi "accepts comments" from ulema (Muslim religious leaders) regarding whether his killing operations are permitted or forbidden according to Islam — provided that the ulema are not connected to a regime and are offering opinions out of personal conviction, and not to please their rulers."
Zarqawi believes that "there is evidence in the Shari'a that his killings are permitted, even if they include the mutilation of corpses: 'Allah has permitted us to repay them in kind, with the same means that they use. If they kill our women, we will kill their women'."
Zarqawi rejects the suggestion that he is attacking Shiites in Iraq.
According to the source, "Zarqawi's position [on Shi'ites] is clear… The entire Salafi stream believes that the Shi'ite is an infidel ideology. I believe this and Zarqawi believes that the Shi'te is heresy. But this does not mean that we declare the Shi'ite masses infidels. We must call upon them to atone to Allah."
Zarqwi maintains that "anyone who enters this country (Iraq) together with the Americans in the context of their occupation is an infidel. We are not talking about an apostateregime, regarding which there is disagreement whether it should be declared infidel. (But) there is no dispute regarding anyone who collaborates with the occupation – he is a traitor and he must be killed, regardless of whether he is a Sunni, a Shi'ite, or a Turk."