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Time Bewails Death Of Zarqawi, Child Bride

Time bemoans the death of their hero:

How They Killed Him

The inside story of how al-Qaeda informants turned on Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, led U.S. forces to the terrorist’s lair and ended a frustrating hunt for Iraq’s most wanted man

By SCOTT MACLEOD, BILL POWELL

Sunday, Jun 11, 2006

The dinner party had gathered last Wednesday evening in a farmhouse in the fertile, fruit-growing countryside just outside Baqubah, 30 miles north of Baghdad. One of the attendees was Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. With him were at least three women and three men, including Sheik Abdul-Rahman, al-Zarqawi’s so-called spiritual adviser and confidant. Also in the house was one of al-Zarqawi’s most trusted couriers, an aide tasked with relaying messages from the commander to militants in the field. What al-Zarqawi could not have known was that U.S. and Jordanian intelligence officials had been tracking the movements of Abdul-Rahman and the courier–whom Jordanian intelligence refers to as Mr. X–for weeks. Fewer than half a dozen members of a U.S. reconnaissance and surveillance team from Delta Force hid in a grove of date and palm trees, watching the building. After years of hunting, they finally had the prey in their sights.

But almost as soon as they took up position, the commandos feared they were about to lose him. A special-operations source tells TIME that the surveillance team was worried that there wasn’t enough time to assemble a ground assault force to raid the house and capture al-Zarqawi; the commandos at the site lacked sufficient manpower and weaponry to attack on their own. As dusk neared, the team fretted al-Zarqawi might slip away if they waited too long. A knowledgeable Pentagon official says the Delta team "saw one group come into the house and one group exit." Al-Zarqawi was not in the departing group, but the commandos were afraid he might be in the next one. The recon unit’s leader radioed his superiors to request an air strike. Two Air Force F-16s on another mission miles away were given the assignment. At 6:12 p.m., the first of two precision-guided 500-lb. bombs fell on the farmhouse. For anyone still inside, there was nowhere left to hide.

The U.S. wasn’t taking chances. During the three-year hunt for him, al-Zarqawi was a maddeningly elusive target–a master of disguise who could pass as a woman in a burqa one day, an Iraqi policeman the next. He traveled in groups of women and children to lower suspicion and frequently moved with ease through checkpoints in Iraq. Although military commanders believe they came close to capturing al-Zarqawi on at least half a dozen occasions in the past two years, few had reason to anticipate an imminent breakthrough. But military and intelligence officials in Washington, Baghdad and Amman tell TIME that the net around al-Zarqawi tightened significantly in the weeks leading up to the strike–boosted by the cooperation of al-Qaeda informants willing to betray their leader. The U.S. scored the war’s biggest triumph since catching Saddam Hussein thanks to the determination of a small group of American hunters, to a Jordanian King’s desire to avenge an attack on his country and, as always, to a good deal of luck. "This wasn’t two hours’, two nights’ or two weeks’ work," says a government source. "This was years of work to get this one guy."

For all his bravado, al-Zarqawi knew he could be caught at any time. In January 2004, U.S. intelligence officers intercepted a 17-page letter addressed to Osama bin Laden in which al-Zarqawi expressed concern for his longevity. "[Iraq] has no mountains in which we can take refuge and no forests in whose thickets we can hide," he wrote. "Our backs are exposed and our movements compromised. Eyes are everywhere."

By that time, hunting al-Zarqawi and his senior aides was the primary responsibility of a secretive special-operations task force whose number designation changed constantly (it was recently called Task Force 145). It was made up of military intelligence operatives, counterterrorism commandos of the Delta Force, and the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, plus Army Rangers. Although the task force had helped capture Saddam in December 2003, the search for al-Zarqawi proved more frustrating. In late 2004, Iraq security forces caught him near the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, but the al-Qaeda leader was able to talk his way out of custody. Several months later, according to special-ops sources, the task force’s commandos closed in on his vehicle west of Baghdad near the Euphrates River, but he escaped. After every getaway, al-Zarqawi went further underground and beefed up his personal security. "I would like to say that every time we had a near miss, we got closer and closer," says a knowledgeable Pentagon official. "But that’s not necessarily the case. After both close calls, there were periods where we had no information on him."

But early this year, the secret task force’s luck began to change. Tips came in from Iraqi insurgents, former Baath Party members loyal to Saddam, some of whom objected to al-Zarqawi’s viciousness and attacks against Shi’ites. U.S. officials say they also received valuable assistance from the government of Jordan, al-Zarqawi’s home country. A Jordanian security official tells TIME that one month after the November 2005 suicide attacks on three hotels in Amman, which killed 60 people, Jordanian King Abdullah II ordered his intelligence officials to set up a new security branch, the Knights of God, to launch an offensive against terrorists outside the country’s borders and eliminate al-Zarqawi. In addition to providing support to anti-Zarqawi tribes in Iraq, the Jordanians sought sources inside al-Qaeda who could lead them to the al-Qaeda boss. The official says that one informant, described as neither Jordanian nor Iraqi, made contact with three of al-Zarqawi’s couriers, all of whom the Jordanians referred to as Mr. X. According to the official, the informant reported spotting one Mr. X in an area outside Baqubah last week. "Mr. X went to Baqubah, so we knew Zarqawi went there," says the official.

Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence operatives gave the special-ops task force a tantalizing lead. For nearly a month, the commandos had monitored every move of Abdul-Rahman, the spiritual adviser, whose locations had been revealed by an al-Qaeda operative captured in May near the Iraq-Jordan border. When Abdul-Rahman surfaced near Baqubah last week–apparently in the same location as the Jordanians’ Mr. X–the commandos moved in for the kill. "We had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Zarqawi was in the house," Army Major General William Caldwell told reporters in Baghdad the day after the strike. The Jordanian security official told TIME that the bombing killed Abdul-Rahman and Mr. X, in addition to al-Zarqawi’s 16-year-old wife.

Remarkably, al-Zarqawi apparently survived the attack, at least for a short while. Iraqi police, Iraqi security forces and military helicopters bearing U.S. soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division swarmed over the safe house immediately after the strike. Iraqi police, Caldwell said, were the first on the scene, and they put al-Zarqawi onto a stretcher. A special-ops exploitation team trained to glean intelligence from raids arrived with photos, fingerprint smudges and descriptions of the scars and tattoos on his body, much of which had been supplied by Jordanian intelligence. As the team began examining him, according to Caldwell, al-Zarqawi muttered something and tried to "turn away off the stretcher." He was quickly "resecured" and died of his wounds shortly thereafter. After investigators on the scene positively identified him, word reached Pentagon officials as they awoke Thursday in Washington. "It’s been a long, long effort," says one. "But we finally got the bastard."

In the wake of the attack, says the Jordanian security official, members of al-Zarqawi’s organization in Iraq launched a series of interrogations in search of those who sold out their leader, leading Jordanian officials to hope that the hit is already causing dissension in jihadist ranks. U.S. intelligence officials believe al-Qaeda in Iraq is likely to name a successor soon, and the Bush Administration was careful to point out that the insurgency will outlive al-Zarqawi. But no one who comes next will have his twisted star power, at least not for a while. "The violence is not only al-Qaeda," says the Jordanian security official. "But this weakens one important link. It’s a warning to all these groups that they are not immune. If we can get Zarqawi, we can get you too."

Gosh that’s sad.

  Update!

Turns out Zarqawi’s wife was more of a "child bride" than we had suspected.

From Wikipedia:

Zarqawi is believed to have had two wives. Al-Zarqawi married his second wife Israa, when she was 13 and she bore him a child when she was 14. Al Zarqawi along with his wife, Israa (then 16), and their son Abdul Rahman (then 18 months) were killed in the airstrike on June 8, 2006.

Zarqawi was 37 when he married this 13 year old girl.

Clearly, he was a pederast, just like his hero Mohammad.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Sunday, June 11th, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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