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Last Updated: Monday, 27 September 2004, 00:16 GMT 01:16 UK
Zarqawi's Jordanian roots

By Jon Leyne
BBC Amman correspondent

Zarqawi's brother-in-law, Saleh al-Hami
Iraqis have been killed too, says Zarqawi's brother-in-law
Zarqa is a dusty, dirty city. The houses sprawl over a series of brown, sun-blasted hillsides. It has a reputation for being the home to the car trade, and for crime.

It is also home to Iraq's most wanted man - Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The name means, "the man from Zarqa".

Zarqawi himself has been on the run for years. But his wife and four children still live in a two-storey house on the edge of town. His brother-in-law Saleh al-Hami also lives across the road.

'Thug'

He was eager to put the record straight about his notorious relative.

Zarqawi is a good man, he insisted, a good Muslim, who has gone to Iraq out of principle to fight the American-led occupation.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
He is a leader, he is strong, straight to the point, with a very strong personality
Leith Shubeilat, Islamic activist

This rough town provided inauspicious roots for a man the Americans credit with leading a large part of the Iraqi resistance.

When he was in his teens, it seemed that Zarqawi was destined for a life of petty crime. He was known as a bit of a thug, a lowlife.

But while few claim Zarqawi is a great intellectual, it appears he does have the ability to lead: the ability to persuade, or to bully, others to follow him.

"He is a leader, he is strong, straight to the point, with a very strong personality," says Leith Shubeilat, an Islamic activist imprisoned with Zarqawi in the 1990s.

Iraq opportunity

What sounds like an obsessive personality gradually turned Zarqawi from crime to the more dangerous pursuit of radical Islam, with its fiery mix of religion and politics.

He travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan, although his relationship with Osama Bin Laden is disputed.

Mourners at Hakim's funeral
Ayatollah al-Hakim's death was a blow to Iraqi Shias
In 1993, Zarqawi was arrested in Jordan, after the authorities discovered rifles and bombs stashed in his house.

In the next years in prison, he turned to learning the Koran by heart.

Then in 1999, he was released by the Jordanians as part of a general amnesty.

The war in Iraq was just the opportunity he was looking for to harness his fanatical beliefs.

He is now believed personally to have carried out several of the recent, brutal, videotaped executions.

Though Zarqawi has become a mystery figure, unseen except in those gruesome videos.

Supporters

Zarqawi's brother-in-law, Saleh al-Hami, had no apologies for the recent violence or kidnappings, such as the holding of the British man Ken Bigley.

"Why are the British worried about this one man, and not about the thousands of Iraqis who have been killed or injured?" asked Mr al-Hami.

Wanted poster
A 'wanted' poster for Zarqawi: there is $25m bounty on his head
Most ordinary Jordanians I spoke to in Zarqa insisted they did not support the current wave of kidnappings.

But they did point to that same double standard.

"All the people here in Jordan and the Middle East are against kidnapping the foreigners," said one man I spoke to outside a newspaper shop in Zarqa.

"Our religion does not want these things to happen in Iraq."

"But all the people want to dismiss Americans and British from Iraq, because Iraq is an Arabic country.

"The foreigners, they killed more people than the kidnappers. The American jets killed 200 or 300 daily."

Zarqawi cannot claim many followers in Jordan, though government buildings here are heavily fortified against any possible attacks from him or other Muslim militants.

But people here do understand what drives him, and most ordinary people I spoke to shared his hatred for America's occupation of Iraq and support for Israel.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Profile of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi




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