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Last Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006, 18:07 GMT 19:07 UK
City of martyrs salutes Zarqawi
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Salt, Jordan

Sheikh Jarrah Kada, the local leader of the Salafi branch of Islam
For Sheikh Kada, Zarqawi was martyr who gave his life for Islam
After Friday morning prayers, Sheikh Jarrah Kada, 42, sporting a thick salt-and-pepper beard, gathers with his companions at a friend's house to drink tea.

Sitting on plastic garden chairs under the shade of a giant hazelnut tree, they discuss the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq, who was killed in a US air strike on Wednesday.

One of the men leafs through the al-Dustur newspaper, a Jordanian daily, which carries a picture of Zarqawi's bloated face on the front page.

For Sheikh Kada, wearing a pale blue prayer cap, Zarqawi's death is a reason to celebrate. But not because the Sheikh sees him as a terrorist - indeed, quite the opposite.

He regards Zarqawi as a hero, a martyr who died in the name of Islam.

"He was a great leader - he fought for Islam," says Sheikh Kada, drawing nods of approval from the 10 men sitting in the circle.

"I'm happy that he is dead because he is now going to heaven."

City of jihad

Sheikh Kada is the local leader of the Salafi branch of Islam - an austere form of Islam that advocates Sharia Islamic law and preaches the duty of jihad.

Islam is not terrorism - I just want Arab lands to be free and Islamic
Abu Roman

Set in rolling hills just outside the Jordanian capital, this historic city has gained a reputation as a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism with a tendency to send its sons to take part in the Iraqi insurgency.

An agricultural engineer, the sheikh says he knows of "tens" of young men from the city who have followed Zarqawi's path and gone to Iraq to fight as insurgents.

The last jihadist he knew from Salt was killed during an attempt to try to free women from Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison in 2003.

For Sheikh Kada and his friends, many wearing white flowing robes, jihad is an honourable cause - warranted both in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

It is a fight against what they see as injustices committed against Muslims.

"America must leave all the places it occupies in the Middle East because it is killing our women and children," the sheikh says.

"The Jews must also leave Israel and give back the land to the Palestinians."

Destination Iraq

The men bristle at the idea that they are in any way extremist.

US briefing displays image of Zarqawi's body
Zarqawi's death has been hailed as a breakthrough by many politicians

"We are true believers in Islam," says Abu Roman, 55, an accountant.

"Islam is not terrorism. I don't kill Americans in America, I don't kill the British in Britain, and I don't kill the Chinese in China. I just want the Arab lands to be free and Islamic."

The flow of jihadists from Salt into Iraq has been staunched by the Jordanian authorities in the last two years.

But the men say that there are many volunteers ready to go and perform jihad across the border.

Sheikh Kada insists he has never persuaded anyone to go and fight Jihad in Iraq.

"Jihad is here," he says poking his chest with his index finger.

Throughout the hour-long conversation, Abdel Rahman Abdullah, 16, wearing a white Versace T-shirt, listens attentively.

Asked if he would to go to Iraq and be a jihadist like Zarqawi, he barely pauses for thought.

"I'd be ready tomorrow," he says.


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