He is an American nightmare, an Islamic mass killer who haunts the national psyche. He has masterminded a bombing campaign in Iraq that has cost hundreds of innocent lives. He has a US$25 million bounty on his head and is blamed for terrorist atrocities that span the globe.
He is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
No single name emerging from the "war on terror," perhaps not even Osama bin Laden himself, now dominates the headlines as much as Zarqawi. Certainly not in the past week. Accounts are confused, but it seems Zarqawi has been injured in Iraq. Perhaps he is even dead.
Rumors have been flying across the Internet and front pages. There have been hospital sightings, stories of a dying leader being smuggled across the border and the beginnings of a fight for a successor. No one knows what is true. Zarqawi has been pronounced dead before and always come back to the fight. Perhaps this time it will be different. Perhaps not (the latest rumors have him alive and back in control).
Only two things are certain. First, the one-time street thug from a Jordanian slum town is now the US' number-one target. Second, if he dies, the Iraqi insurgency will carry on without him. For Zarqawi did not create the war in Iraq. Rather, Iraq's war gave him his chance. Zarqawi's story is of a man who seized an opportunity to practice mayhem, honing his dreadful talent on the killing fields of the Sunni Triangle.
Zarqawi was put up by the US as a terrorist bogeyman long before he had the profile to justify it. Much of the world first heard his name in a speech by then-US secretary of state Colin Powell to the UN when he was used to link al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein. Zarqawi was held up as key to making the case for the US invasion of Iraq. Ever since, in his own blood-stained way, he has been making the case against.
Yet Zarqawi remains a shadowy figure. Even his name is not real. His nom de guerre is simply a homage to his home town of Zarqa, a poor town about half-an-hour's drive from Amman. His real name is the more wordy Ahmad Fadeel Nazal al Khalayleh. He was born in 1966, possibly on Oct. 20, to a father who was a retired Jordanian army officer. Their house was a two-storey concrete construction overlooking the chimneys of a city dubbed Jordan's Detroit for its car industry (and its crime). Like so much of Zarqawi's life, a close examination sees certainty evaporate. No wonder US Marines scouring Fallujah or Ramadi cannot find him. Many of his fellow Islamists see him as a ghost-like figure, always eluding the net. In trying to piece together his life, they sometimes seem to have a point.
When Powell first described Zarqawi, he said he was of Palestinian origin. It is a mistake often repeated. But those trying to explain Zarqawi's blood lust by using the Palestinian tragedy are scouring the wrong ground. In fact his family belong to the Beni Hassan tribe of Bedouin, a long-established Jordanian group that is usually loyal to Jordan's ruling monarch.
Nothing in his childhood hinted at what he was going to become. His father died in 1984, leaving the large family to struggle on a meagre army pension. Zarqawi quickly became a tearaway. He spent his time scrapping and playing football in Zarqa's dusty streets and surprised no one by dropping out of school aged 17.
He drifted into casual crime as an enforcer and general-purpose thug. At some time, he was imprisoned for sexual assault. On the streets, he learned the art of violence. It was a lesson he used to dramatic effect when he hacked off the head of American engineer Nick Berg in the first "snuff video" to emerge from Iraq.
Indeed, much of his violence has a street crime feel to it. It is brutal, direct, unflinching and unthinking. Not for Zarqawi the press interviews with Westerners that bin Laden once gave. Not for Zarqawi the pampered Saudi childhood. Not for Zarqawi the meandering meditations on Islamic theory as a justification for murder. If Zarqawi and his network are eclipsing bin Laden and al-Qaeda, as some terrorist experts believe, then it is a form of terrorism that betrays its roots in Zarqa's brutish underworld, not some austere Arabian seminary.
Zarqawi's criminal career exposed him to Jordan's Palestinian refugee camps. Wallowing in crime, the camps also suffered from a different affliction: radical Islam.
Henry Tong (湯偉雄) and Elaine To (杜依蘭) were preparing to spend their first wedding anniversary in separate prison cells until their acquittal for rioting during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. There were gasps and tears of relief in court on Friday last week as a judge declared prosecutors had failed to prove that the couple took part in clashes with police in July last year. The pair walked free in a ruling that has potential consequences for hundreds of other protesters facing similar charges. However, they have a long journey ahead as they try to rebuild their lives and business. “We have already been punished,”
WARNINGS OVER COMPLACENCY: The curves of new infections in numerous countries is climbing, while others see the the first new infections in months Spikes in COVID-19 infections in Asia have dispelled any notion that the region might be over the worst, with Australia and India yesterday reporting record daily infections, Vietnam fretting over a new surge and North Korea urging vigilance. Asian nations had largely prided themselves on rapidly containing initial outbreaks after the coronavirus emerged in central China late last year, but flare-ups this month have shown the danger of complacency. “We’ve got to be careful not to slip into some idea that there’s some golden immunity that Australia has in relation to this virus,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. Australia recorded its
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable
‘COVIDIOTS’: Politicians condemned the protest that came amid surging infections in the country, while a marcher said government-induced fear weakened the body Loudly chanting their opposition to masks and vaccines, thousands of people on Saturday gathered in Berlin to protest against COVID-19 restrictions before being dispersed by police. Police put turnout at about 20,000 — well below the 500,000 organizers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” from months of virus curbs. Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over the past few weeks and politicians took to social media to criticize the rally as irresponsible. “We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists, as they converged