Monday, Apr. 18, 2005

Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi

In the year before the Iraq invasion, the U.S. had opportunities to kill terrorist leader Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi. But Washington refrained, afraid of spooking the Europeans it wanted to join the invading force. Since then, al-Zarqawi's Islamist group, al-Qaeda of Jihad of the Land of the Two Rivers, has killed countless American and other Western soldiers as well as their Iraqi counterparts. The Americans must wish they'd taken him out.

Al-Zarqawi, nearing 40, was born in Jordan. As a youth, he drank, dropped out of high school and often got into trouble with the police. In the 1980s and '90s he trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. From a base somewhere in Iraq, al-Zarqawi now plays a key role in integrating non-Iraqi Muslims—from Syria, Jordan, Yemen and elsewhere—into the Iraq insurgency. Last December he openly pledged loyalty to Osama bin Laden. Although bin Laden does not seek command and control over groups like this that join al-Qaeda, he hopes to inspire them to attack the U.S. and its allies, spreading American forces across the globe and diminishing the ability of Washington's still small pool of capable intelligence officers to focus on al-Qaeda itself.

A letter from bin Laden to al-Zarqawi, recently intercepted by Western intelligence, asked al-Zarqawi to "attack the United States." That's likely to push ever more scarce U.S. resources toward al-Zarqawi, even before it is clear he has a capacity to attack the U.S.

Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris, headed the CIA's bin Laden unit desk from 1996 to 1999

From the Archive
Face of Terror: How Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi transformed the Iraq insurgency into a holy war and became America's newest nightmare