Al Zarqawi's terrorist net attracting Muslims in more then 40 countries - Bosnia favored recruiting ground for White Al Qaeda
December 18, 2005
Zarqawi plans to spread terror net
Once regarded as a brutal but relatively minor figure in the al-Qa'ida hierarchy, Zarqawi has now outstripped his mentor, Osama bin Laden, who has not been heard of for a year.
Zarqawi commands more people, has access to greater funds and enjoys growing support among young Muslims drawn to his slick internet sites, which give lurid details of his latest attacks on "infidels".
A recent study of Iraq's insurgency by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington estimated 3000 foreign fighters had gone to Iraq to join the insurgency against the US-led coalition forces.
Now battle-hardened, they form the vanguard of a foreign legion ready to take the jihad to their homelands, in what US intelligence officials refer to as "bleed-out".
The US National Counter-Terrorism Centre believes Zarqawi's network extends to 40 countries, and that he has developed links with 24 militant groups around the world.
Already notorious in Iraq for committing the worst outrages of the insurgency, including personally beheading several foreign hostages and killing thousands of Shia civilians, Zarqawi last week carried out his first big operation outside the country.
Iraqi suicide bombers attacked three hotels in Amman, the Jordanian capital, killing 62 people, mainly Jordanian civilians attending a wedding reception.
"This is Zarqawi marking out his new territory," an Arab intelligence source said. "I believe there's a leadership struggle under way in al-Qa'ida and he wants to establish himself as the new supremo."
The evidence suggests the 38-year-old, who grew up in the impoverished Jordanian town of Zarqa, may be well on his way to achieving his goal.
Earlier this year, US officials released a letter they intercepted to Zarqawi from Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qa'ida's second in command, on their common goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate in the Arab world. In the 6000-word missive, Zawahiri told Zarqawi that after US forces were driven from Iraq, jihad must be waged against "secular countries neighbouring Iraq".
The attacks in Jordan suggest such a phase may already be under way.
The last two al-Qa'ida commanders in Saudi Arabia killed by security forces had both seen action in Iraq alongside Zarqawi. Militants were intercepted in Kuwait in June trying to smuggle explosives into the emirate from Iraq, and two gun battles in Syria in the past six months involved militants with links to Iraq.
"This phenomenon hasn't really started happening yet, but it's something everyone is expecting," said a British counter-terrorism official in the Gulf.
"If it gets to the point where it's more difficult to fight in Iraq than to fight somewhere else, they'll fight somewhere else."
Afghanistan, where Zarqawi once ran a training camp near the city of Herat, is another target. Intelligence officials in Kabul believe Zarqawi has sent two lieutenants from Iraq to the south of Afghanistan, where thousands of British troops will be deployed next year.
The two men have been identified as Abu Amro Abdul Haqim, an Egyptian, and Said al-Faqih, a Syrian. The mission is to lead insurgent operations over the winter and keep up the pressure on coalition forces at a time when harsh weather normally brings a lull in fighting.
There are also signs Zarqawi wants to mobilise cells in Europe. Four of his followers were convicted in Dusseldorf last month of plotting to attack Jewish targets in Germany. The presiding judge, Ottmar Breidling, said: "Zarqawi should also have been sitting on the defendants bench."
Britain may also be a target. Scotland Yard is investigating alleged links between three men charged with terrorism offences in London this month and an online recruiter for Zarqawi who has been picked up in the Balkans.
According to police, the arrested men were carrying DVDs with instructions on how to make a suicide bomb belt. Officers say they found surveillance photographs of US landmarks, including the White House.
Detectives have gone to Sarajevo to talk to security chiefs about their arrest of Mishad Becktasivic, a Bosnian-born extremist alleged to have been in Iraq with Zarqawi, who helps run one of his websites.
Becktasivic has a Swedish passport and was travelling with a Turkish man. Police say they found explosives, bomb-making materials and a suicide vest in their apartment in the Bosnian capital and believe the plan was to attack a Western embassy.
European intelligence services are concerned about the impact of Zarqawi's growing reputation among young Muslims, who are flocking to his cause.
"He functions as a role model. There are groups that believe it is a great honour to carry out attacks in his name," said the head of Germany's foreign intelligence service, August Hanning.
US forces in Iraq have stepped up their hunt for Zarqawi, who has a $US25 million ($33 million) bounty on his head.
Two US commando teams are pursuing him in Iraq's restive Anbar province, where he is thought to be hiding. They have killed several of his subordinates and twice this year came close to capturing Zarqawi himself.