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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
Zarqawi 'not leading Iraq unrest'
Wanted poster
A 'wanted' poster for Zarqawi: there is a $25m bounty on his head
Jordanian al-Qaeda militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been forced to step down as leader of a coalition of Iraqi militants, a leading Islamist claims.

Huthaifa Azzam, whose father was a mentor of Osama Bin Laden, said Zarqawi was replaced by an Iraqi two weeks ago.

Mr Azzam claimed some were unhappy about Zarqawi's tactics and tendency to speak for the insurgency as a whole.

However, experts say choosing an Iraqi as political leader is a tactic aimed at giving the insurgency an Iraqi face.

'Embarrassment'

The new political leader of the coalition of insurgent groups - of which Zarqawi is part - is Abdullah al-Baghdadi, Mr Azzam said.

He said that the move was in part prompted by embarrassment at Zarqawi's attacks on other countries, such as last year's hotel bombings in Jordan, and his use of brutal tactics, such as videotaped beheadings.

The claims cannot be independently verified and it is not clear how Mr Azzam came by the information.

He claims close contacts with the insurgents and is the son of Abdullah Azzam, a charismatic Palestinian who was one of the seminal figures in the modern jihadi movement in the Muslim world.

Influence on Bin Laden

Abdullah Azzam encouraged Muslims, including the young Osama Bin Laden, to go to fight in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s.

As a result, the son speaks with a certain authority about the jihadi groups in Iraq, the BBC's Middle East analyst, Roger Hardy, says.

As head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Zarqawi has become the country's most notorious insurgent - a shadowy figure associated with the bloodiest bombings, assassinations and the beheading of foreign hostages.

In January this year al-Qaeda in Iraq posted a statement on a website saying that it had joined five other insurgent groups in Iraq to form the Mujahideen Shura Council, or the Consultative Council of Holy Warriors.

Even if the claims of him adopting a lower profile turn out to be true, our Middle East analyst says that there can be little doubt that as a military leader - responsible for some of the most ruthless acts of violence in Iraq - Zarqawi remains a force to be reckoned with.





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