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Page last updated at 11:11 GMT, Friday, 27 May 2005 12:11 UK

Confusion over Zarqawi's fate

By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC World Service Arab affairs analyst

There is continued speculation about the fate of Jordanian militant and al-Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The Iraqi government has said it can confirm reports that Zarqawi has been injured. But the government could not say how serious his injuries were or whether he was still in Iraq.

The announcement follows a stream of recent reports about the man's health and his whereabouts.

A woman walks under an anti-terror poster showing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Baghdad (file picture)
Capturing Zarqawi would not bring the end of the insurgency in Iraq

The reports culminated in a statement on Tuesday posted on an Islamist website. It said Zarqawi had been injured and urged Muslims to pray for his recovery.

Conflicting news has since then appeared about his whereabouts and whether his group has nominated a successor or not.

The Tuesday statement sparked a stream of speculation ending in two contradictory claims which appeared on Thursday about a possible successor.

The authenticity of these internet statements was not independently verified. That explains the confusion and the scepticism that will inevitably surround any conclusions based on them and not on material evidence.

Doubt was immediately cast over the authenticity of the Tuesday statement because it did not appear on the website used by the Zarqawi group in Iraq, but another website used by Islamists called al-Hikmah.

Those who believed the statement assumed from its language and tone that Zarqawi was either dead or so seriously injured that he may never recover.

Other press reports followed.

They said Zarqawi had been whisked away to an unspecified neighbouring country with Arab doctors for the treatment of injuries he sustained during recent fighting near the Syrian border.

Capturing Zarqawi or killing him will be a huge moral boost for the Iraqi government and the coalition forces led by the Americans. It will also be a huge setback for his followers, but it will certainly not be the end of the insurgency

The reports said he had bled profusely from an injury to his lungs and that it was impossible to treat him in Iraq because he could not stay in one place as the American and Iraqi troops stepped their campaign to capture or kill him.

An Arabic newspaper, which has contacted his family in Jordan, reported that his sister knew nothing about his whereabouts and that she had only heard about her brother from the media.

The al-Hayat newspaper also said the reports about Zarqawi could be part of a ploy by his group to spread false information as they come under increasing pressure from counter-insurgency operations.

On Thursday, a new internet statement appeared, saying a deputy had been named awaiting the recovery of Zarqawi.

This was quickly contradicted by another statement also claiming to be from his group, al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers.

Neither of these statements could be independently verified. And it is difficult to know whether they are part of a disinformation campaign or simply genuine confusion.

Wanted

Zarqawi is an Islamist militant born in Jordan and a senior al-Qaeda operative.

His group has claimed responsibility for several devastating attacks that killed many members of the Iraqi security forces as well as Iraqi Shias.

As a Sunni supremacist, he denigrates the Shia in general and regards Iraqi Shia Muslims as collaborators with the Americans.

He is Washington's most wanted man in Iraq. They have announced a reward of $25m for his capture.

Capturing Zarqawi or killing him will undoubtedly be a huge moral boost for the Iraqi government and the coalition forces led by the Americans.

It will also be a huge setback for his followers, but it will certainly not be the end of the insurgency - for two reasons.

First, his group forms only one part of the insurgency. Second, killing Zarqawi does not mean killing the doctrine that breeds people like him in Iraq or elsewhere in the Arab world.

Zarqawi's death will be seen by his supporters as the ultimate heavenly reward for a jihadi - that is martyrdom and paradise.

It may even inspire them to fight on rather than lay down their weapons and surrender.



video and audio news
Iraqi minister confirms Zarqawi has been injured



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