Al-Zarqawi: Ruthless, Resolute in Violent Ideology
Zarqa, Jordan - The Muslim extremist believed responsible for some of the bloodiest attacks on civilians and soldiers in Iraq was ruthless, uncompromising and fiercely certain of his violent interpretation of Islam while in prison, say Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi's former cellmates. The ideological seeds of what one Western diplomat estimates is al-Zarqawi's 2,000-strong army of fighters in Iraq today can be found in the time he led a prison gang during the late 1990s while serving time for allegedly trying to topple the Jordanian government.
"Al-Zarqawi was a simple, but a dangerous man," said Yousef Rababaa, who shared al-Zarqawi's cell block in Jordan for three years until 1999. "You just don't come near him if you don't buy his bigoted gospel." Rababaa said al-Zarqawi led a fanatical group of about 20 prisoners known as al-Tawhid, which refers to the central Islamic tenet of monotheism and is similar to the name al-Zarqawi initially used for his fighters in Iraq. The rhetoric was meant to evoke a pure ideal of Islam, one al-Zarqawi believed was worth killing to protect and spread.
Rababaa headed a rival prison group espousing the need to purge Muslim lands of foreign occupiers, but al-Zarqawi didn't consider him militant enough. Rababaa said al-Zarqawi tried to persuade him to join his group, and when he failed, "labeled me an 'infidel.'" "I knew my adversary as a man who neither pursued the path of reconciliation nor was able to maneuver because of his background and his limited thinking," Rababaa told The Associated Press. Rababaa, 35, was sentenced to life in jail in 1996 for plotting terrorism against Israeli targets in Jordan, but - like al-Zarqawi - he was freed under a royal amnesty in 1999.
Al-Zarqawi recently pledged his allegiance to al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and changed the name of his fighters to Al-Qaida in Iraq. In an audiotape broadcast in late December by Al-Jazeera satellite television, a speaker the CIA believes was bin Laden appeared to take up al-Zarqawi's offer. Bin Laden identified al-Zarqawi as his lieutenant in Iraq and said Muslims there should "listen to him."
American military leaders have identified al-Zarqawi as a leader among foreign "hard-core" terrorists opposing the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, though much of the insurgency is thought to be run by Iraqis and former Baath Party supporters of ousted leader Saddam Hussein. Al-Zarqawi has managed to bring Iraqis into his fold, however, U.S. Lt. Gen. Lance Smith said recently at the Pentagon, adding that he might now be operating in and around Baghdad.
In his latest alleged attack, al-Zarqawi's group on Tuesday claimed responsibility for assassinating the governor of the Baghdad province, Ali al-Haidari, and six of his bodyguards.
An Iraqi insurgency group, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, also said it has begun working with al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq ahead of scheduled Jan. 30 national elections in Iraq. Ansar al-Sunnah - which has emerged as the deadliest homegrown militant network in Iraq - has claimed responsibility for some of the worst recent violence, including a suicide bombing at a U.S.-Iraqi base near Mosul last month. The attack was one of the deadliest against U.S. troops since the start of the war, killing 22 people - most of them American soldiers.
Even before the U.S.-led war started in March 2003, Jordan had evidence al-Zarqawi was in Iraq's northern Kurdistan, said Ali Abul-Ragheb, who was then Jordan's prime minister. The security official said Jordan notified Iraq, but got no response, apparently because Saddam might have wished to enlist al-Zarqawi's support in the looming war.
For all his self-taught religion and guerrilla training, some of al-Zarqawi's activities in Iraq recall the teenage thug and prison enforcer he once was. He is believed to have been the masked man who appeared in videos decapitating at least two civilian American hostages in Iraq. The United States has a $25 million bounty on his head, equal to the reward for bin Laden.
Street fighting man
Now 38, al-Zarqawi dropped out of school at 17, family members have said. A thug in his teens, al-Zarqawi was known for heavy drinking and street fighting. In the 1980s, he was jailed for sexual assault, security officials have said without providing details. He also had a passion for tattoos. In prison, Rababaa said al-Zarqawi covered up the tattoos, which he came to see as reminders of a shameful past. A prison doctor said he had at least one tattoo, a green anchor denoting his love of the sea, removed from his left arm.
Al-Zarqawi embraced religion when he was in his early 20s. Like many poor, frustrated young men, he was drawn to the calls of pride and identity made by radical preachers.
His late mother, Umm Sayel, said in an interview last year in the family home in Zarqa that her son hung out at mosques because he had so much free time, and soon was bringing clerics home to explain the Quran to him. Zarqa is an industrial city 17 miles from Jordan's capital, Amman.
Like other Arab men with religious fervor, al-Zarqawi traveled to Afghanistan a few times between 1991 and 1995 to fight alongside U.S.-backed Afghans battling Soviet occupiers. Back in Jordan, he led a plot to topple the kingdom's pro-Western monarch, which he considered an "infidel," according to military court documents. He was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to 15 years in jail, but was freed under a general amnesty when Jordan's King Abdullah II ascended to the throne in 1999. Upon release, al-Zarqawi returned to Afghanistan and developed skills in making explosives and mixing poisons at al-Qaida camps, a Jordanian security official said on condition of anonymity.
While abroad, he allegedly helped map out a conspiracy to use bombs and poison gas to attack American and Israeli tourists in Jordan during the kingdom's millennium celebrations. A military court convicted him and 21 other Arab militants of a terror conspiracy and sentenced him in absentia to 15 years in jail in 2002. He also has been convicted in absentia in Jordan in the 2002 assassination of U.S. aid official Laurence Foley in Amman. But is it really him? Since 1999, Jordanian intelligence picked up al-Zarqawi's trail in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Iraq - but couldn't catch him, partly because of his mastery of disguises and false passports, the Jordanian security official said.
Rababaa, his former prison mate, doesn't underestimate al-Zarqawi's capacity for violence, but questions whether he could have planned the wave of suicide bombings and other attacks in Iraq for which he has claimed responsibility and for which the Americans blame him. Rababaa also questions the authenticity of audio and video clippings with alleged al-Zarqawi statements and beheadings posted on the Internet, saying the man he knew was "left-handed, chubbier and taller and his voice is softer than the man said to be him."
Another ex-convict, who said he befriended al-Zarqawi while serving a life sentence for anti-government activities, said he had a hard time imagining the militant as guiding Iraq's insurgency. The second ex-con spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of drawing police attention. At least four relatives, including al-Zarqawi's two nephews and his brother-in-law, have been detained in Jordan, some for simply talking to journalists. The second ex-con said al-Zarqawi was feared by other inmates and, while loyal to his friends, was quick to fight if crossed, but lacked the brains and skills of a planner.
Jean-Charles Brisard, a French private investigator who has researched al-Zarqawi's life, dismissed such skepticism. "You can't compare him to Osama bin Laden, who has an elaborate planning strategy, but al-Zarqawi has his own tactics, whose pillars are violence, chaos and destruction, like what we're seeing in Iraq," Brisard said in a telephone interview from Switzerland.
Bush: Ruthless, Resolute in Violent Ideology
Washington, D.C. - The Christian extremist believed responsible for some of the bloodiest attacks on civilians and soldiers in Iraq was ruthless, uncompromising and fiercely certain of his violent interpretation of Christianity since putting an end to years of alcohol and cocaine abuse, say George W. Bush's former drinking buddies. The ideological seeds of what one Western diplomat estimates is Bush's 150,000-strong army of fighters in Iraq today can be found in the time he discovered Jesus after giving up bar-hopping in 1985.
"Bush was a simple, but a dangerous man," said Bob Budweiser, who shared Bush's bunkhouse at Houston's Ellington Air Force Base during 1972. "In the Guard he was a party animal, but after he found Jesus, well, you just didn't come near him if you didn't buy his bigoted gospel." Budweiser said Bush led a small group of former drinking buddies known as God's Fire, which refers to the central Christian tenet of monotheism and is similar to the name Bush initially used for his fighters in Iraq. The rhetoric was meant to evoke a pure ideal of Christianity, one Bush believed was worth killing to protect and spread.
Budweiser headed a rival group espousing the need to purge America of non-Christian ideologies, but Bush didn't consider him militant enough. Budweiser said Bush tried to persuade him to join his group, and when he failed, "labeled me a 'liberal.' I knew my adversary as a man who neither pursued the path of reconciliation nor was able to maneuver because of his background and his limited thinking," Budweiser told The Associated Press. Budweiser, now 58, robbed a convenience store in 1977 and served three months in a Texas penitentiary. His life seemed meaningless until - like Bush - he found God and turned his life around in 1985.
Bush recently pledged his allegiance to Vice-President Dick Cheney and changed the name of his fighters to Freedom Soldiers in Iraq. In an audiotape broadcast in late December by FOX News television, a speaker the CIA believes was Cheney appeared to take up Bush's offer. Cheney identified Bush as his lieutenant in Iraq and said Christians there should "listen to him."
Non-lobotomized Americans have identified Bush as a leader among international "hard-core" terrorists supporting the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, though much of the military campaign is thought to be run by people with personal financial interest in the Iraq war. Bush has managed to bring non-fundamentalists into his fold, however. U.S. Lt. Gen. Lance Smith said recently at the Pentagon that "All we gotta do to get cooperation is promise we won't order an audit by the IRS."
In his latest alleged attack, Bush's group on Tuesday claimed responsibility for relieving 16 Iraqis of the burden of breathing Baghdad's polluted air.
An American counter-insurgency group, the United States Marine Corps, also said it has begun working with Bush's Freedom Soldiers in Iraq ahead of scheduled Jan. 30 national elections in Iraq. In his recent Second Inaugural Address, President Bush said that "The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world." The nature of this freedom was revealed in late October when the Lancet, a highly respected British medical journal, released a study suggesting that more than 100,000 Iraqis, mostly civilians, have died since the United States brought freedom to their oil-rich nation.
Even before the U.S.-led war started in March 2003, there was evidence Bush was in Texas planning violence against Iraqi citizens, said a source who refused to be identified. Many in the U.S. tried to stop the looming war, but were largely ignored, apparently because most citizens tend to support their president during times of crisis and thus avoid being labeled as "terrorist sympathizers."
For all his dogmatic religion, some of Bush's activities in Iraq recall the born-with-a-silver-spoon teenager he once was. He is believed to be the uniformed man who landed on an aircraft carrier in 2003 before live TV cameras and swaggered about the ship like a strutting rooster. The United States just elected him to a second four-year term as President, equal to what Richard Nixon achieved in 1972.
Silver spoon man
Now 58, Bush attended the elite Phillips Andover Academy, Yale University and Harvard Business School. A listless student in his teens, he became a cheerleader at Yale but managed to graduate in the top 85% of his class. In 1972 Bush was arrested for cocaine possession and had his record expunged with the help of family connections. In 1976, he was convicted of drunk driving, which he came to see as a reminder of a shameful past.
Bush embraced religion when he was in his early 40s. Like other young men born into rich families, he was drawn to the calls of zealotry and wealth made by radical preachers and corporate executives.
His mother, Barbara Bush, said in an interview last year in the family home in Kennebunkport that her son hung out at bars because he had so much free time, but later was bringing clerics home to explain the Bible to him. Kennebunkport is a resort town 500 miles from America's capital, Washington, D.C.
Like other American men born into wealth, Bush tried his hand at business. His father, George Bush Sr., was CIA Director, then an influential congressman from Texas with connections to wealthy Middle East oil families, and finally President. Bush Jr. started a succession of unprofitable oil companies using money provided by his father's business associates, including Saudi investors hoping for favorable treatment from Washington, D.C. Family friends repeatedly bailed out his failing business ventures. Bush successfully ran for the Texas Governor's office in 1994 using funds provided by his father's business associates who were hoping for favorable treatment from Austin.
While Governor, he helped Texas to achieve number one ranking in many categories of pollution and environmental degradation; rank dead last in virtually every social service area, yet first in executions (152.) He also got legislation passed making it legal to carry concealed weapons and supported laws against sodomy. Along the way, in a 1984 sweetheart deal Bush borrowed $500,000 to purchase a 2% share of the Texas Rangers Baseball team, which he sold while Governor for $14.9 million.
Budweiser, his former drinking buddy, doesn't underestimate Bush's capacity for violence, but questions whether he could have planned the wave of bombings and other attacks in Iraq for which he has claimed responsibility and for which many blame him. Budweiser also questions the authenticity of audio and video clippings with alleged Bush statements, saying the man he knew was "too bone-headed to be writing the articulate speeches that the President reads to a teleprompter."
Another ex-drinking buddy, who said he befriended Bush while also flying in the Texas Air National Guard to avoid serving in Vietnam, said he had a hard time imagining the militant as guiding the Iraqi war. The second ex-buddy spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of drawing Department of Homeland Security attention. Dozens of business associates, including Vice-President Cheney's former employer Halliburton Corporation, have been rewarded with lucrative government contracts since Bush started the Iraq War (Halliburton's Iraq contracts have surpassed $10 billion.) The second ex-buddy said Bush was feared and, while loyal to his friends, was quick to backstab if crossed, but lacked the brains and skills of a planner.
James Lesse, an American author who has researched Bush's life, dismissed such skepticism. "You can't compare him to Cheney, who has an elaborate planning strategy, but Bush has his own tactics, whose pillars are violence, chaos and destruction, like what we're seeing in Iraq," Lesse said in a telephone interview from Austin.