Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

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God honoured us and so we harvested their heads and tore up their bodies in many places: the United Nations in Baghdad; the coalition forces in Karbala; the Italians in Nasiriya; the US forces on Khalidiya Bridge; the US intelligence in Al-Shahin Hotel and the Republican Palace in Baghdad; the CIA in the Rashid Hotel; and the Polish forces in Al-Hilla.
—Abu Musab al-Zarqawi[1]

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (Arabic: أبو مصعب الزرقاوي; (1966–2006)) was a Jordanian-born Islamic terrorist known for high-profile bombings such as those of the UN office in Baghdad, the Amman hotels, revered Shiite mosques, bloody assassinations, beheading of hostages, and mayhem intended to drive Iraq into insurgency. This guy was a real douche.

He was an early rival to Osama bin Laden as the leader of global jihad. Zarqawi's disputes with bin Laden and his early spiritual mentor Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi led the global jihad into new ideological territory with him as its master[2] and laid the foundation for the xenophobic and murderous rampage of the Islamic State.


Maqdisi and the Salafists[edit]

At the age of 23, Zarqawi arrived in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal of forces in 1989. He intended to proceed to the brewing jihadi hotspot of ChechnyaWikipedia.[3] He worked as a correspondent for the small jihadist magazine, Al-Bonian al Marsous. He anticipated taking part in the fall of Kabul and the establishment of the first Sunni Islamic state in modern times. However, jihadists soon began fighting among themselvesWikipedia, and the pro-Soviet Najibullah regime did not fall for another three years.

Around this time, Zarqawi went to Peshawar in Pakistan where he first came in contact with the imam Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, whom a West Point study refers to as "the most influential living Jihadi Theorist".[4] Maqdisi became Zarqawi's spiritual and ideological mentor. Maqdisi teaches that democracy seeks to replace Allah as the supreme legislator,[5] and obedience to man-made legislation is a form of idol worship.

While in Peshawar, Zarqawi befriended many Jordanian and Syrian jihadists and began organizing the overthrow of the Jordanian government.[6] Many of Zarqawi’s most important early recruits were veterans of the Muslim Brotherhood’s uprising against the Syrian government of Hafez al-Assad in the 1980s.[7]


Activities in Jordan[edit]

Once back in Jordan, Zarqawi and Maqdisi were arrested and sentenced to seven years in Swaqa prison for conspiring to overthrow the monarchy and establish an Islamic Caliphate.[8] Under Maqdisi's tutelage in jail, Zarqawi memorized the Recitation, or Qu'ran. Maqdisi was the first prominent Salafi scholar to brand the House of Saud as unbelievers[note 1] and hold the adoption of democracy as apostasy.

While in prison, Zarqawi organized a considerable number of jihadi youths. Zarqawi rose to head the Monotheism and Jihad group and extracted an oath of obedience from his Salafi teacher and elder, Maqdisi. He was released early in 1999 due to an amnesty granted by the new King Abdullah and went back to Afghanistan.

Global jihad strategy[edit]

In a 2000 A.D. meeting in Kandahar, Osama bin Laden tried to persuade Zarqawi to join al-Qaeda, but Zarqawi refused, having different views on strategy for the global jihad. Bin Laden wanted first to focus on defeating the United States then destroy Israel and the House of Sa'ud and finally establish a Caliphate. Zarqawi, following a strategy mapped out by Abu Musab al-SuriWikipedia, a veteran of the 1982 Syrian uprising,[9] wanted to immediately carve out an Islamic State in the heart of the Middle East, declare a Caliphate, then invite jihadis from all over the world to war against non-believers and apostates.[10]


With the approval of the Taliban, Zarqawi established the al Matar training camp at Herat in Western Afghanistan near the Iranian border. The base specialized in manufacturing chemical weapons.[11] While Zarqawi's network did receive some financial support from bin Laden, it was clearly autonomous. Zarqawi's men, known as the Jund al-ShamWikipedia (Soldiers of the Levant) refused to march under the banner of another individual or group.[note 2] The base at Herat also allowed him to bypass Pakistani routes into Afghanistan used by al-Qaeda and instead create his own "underground railroad" to ferry operatives between Europe, the Middle East, and Afghanistan through Iran. International brigade jihadisWikipedia could also be funneled to Dagestan and Chechnya through Turkmenistan.[12]

In September 2001, around the time of the 9/11 attacks, Zarqawi sent a cell to Germany instructing them to target Jewish and Israeli facilities.

He stayed in Herat until the Taliban was ousted by U.S. troops in 2002[note 3] then exited through Iran and into Iraqi Kurdistan.[note 4]

Ansar al-Islam[edit]

He was given shelter by Mullah KrekarWikipedia's group, Ansar al-Islam[13][14][15][16] and re-established his chemical weapons lab at Bayara, ironically under the protection of a "no fly" zone imposed by the United States. [17]

Jordan asked Iraq to extradite Zarqawi following the murder of the Lawrence Foley on October 28, 2002, a diplomat with the U.S. Agency for International Development, but Saddam Hussein's regime did not act on the request. Zarqawi was tried and sentenced to death in absentia.

As for Ansar al-Islam, those lovely bunch of folks would go on to support ISIS[18]


Iraq insurgency[edit]

On August 19, 2003, Zarqawi sent a truck bomb that killed U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de MelloWikipedia and 21 others at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. Vieira de Mello was then considered the most likely successor to UN Secretary-General Kofi AnnanWikipedia. Ten days later, in what was then the deadliest attack of the insurgency, Zarqawi engineered the killing of over a hundred people, including the revered cleric Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, in a car bombing outside the tomb of the First Shi'a ImamWikipedia in Najaf. The shahid in that attack was al-Zarqawi’s father-in-law.

On October 27, thirty-five people were killed and two-hundred-twenty wounded with four car bombs destroying three police stations and the Red Cross headquarters in Baghdad. On February 10-11, 2004, one-hundred people were killed by a pair of car bombs at a police station and recruiting center. On March 2, 2004, Zarqawi's group staged a series of bomb attacks on Shi'as, killing at least 185 people.

On May 17, 2004, the Iraqi Governing Council President Izzedin Salim was killed in a suicide attack. On June 24, more than 100, including three U.S. soldiers, were killed, and 320 injured in a coordinated series of attacks on security forces in Baghdad, Baquba, Mosul, Falluja, and Ramadi. On October 24, forty-nine Iraqi police recruits were murdered execution-style at a false checkpoint near Baghdad. On February 28, 2005, at least 125 people were killed and 170 wounded in a suicide bombing in Hilla.

On April 4, 2005, Zarqawi's organization staged a raid wounding 57, including 44 American soldiers, in a guerilla attack and suicide bombing at Abu Ghraib prison. On July 2, Ihab al-Sherif, the Egyptian envoy to Iraq was kidnapped and later executed.

Zarqawi's group perpetrated a campaign of assassinations, kidnappings, and bombings including another suicide attack on a Shi'a mosque in July that killed ninety-eight people and a suicide truck bomb targeting Shiite workers in August which killed more than one hundred.

On September 14, 2005, after the fact, Zarqawi issued a formal declaration of all-out war against the Shi'a population of Iraq. By then, even bin Laden and Zawahiri were shocked by Zarqawi's excesses against Shi'a non-combatants and Sunni moderates.[19][20]

Rabid anti-Shi'ism[edit]

Zarqawi disparagingly referred to the Shi'a as rafidahWikipedia or rejectionist in that they reject mainstream orthodox Sunni beliefs[note 5] that the Prophet's companions carried the successorship of Mohammad. In Zarqawi's view, shared with many Sunni throughout the Middle East[21], the Shi'a are not Muslim.[22] As crazy as it may seem, the presence of Hezbollah and the Alewites in Syria is considered by Zarqawi and his followers as an Iranian conspiracy to create a Shi'a buffer, protecting the Zionist state from Sunni attacks.[23]

As the restoration of Iraq sovereigntyWikipedia and the installation of a democratically-elected Shi'a majority government in Baghdad's Green Zone approached, Zarqawi posted a message to the Sunnis on April 6, 2004:

When recalling historical experience, the testimony of ancient times, the proofs of the present reality, and the things that we are experiencing today, we begin to truly understand God's words: "They are the enemies; so beware of them. The curse of Allah be on them!" [Qur'an al-Munafiqoon (the Hypocrites) 63:4] ... Ibn TaymiyyahWikipedia was right in his description of these people when they repudiated the people of Islam. He said: This is why they cooperated with the infidels and the Tartars...They were the main cause of the invasion of Muslim countries by Genghis Khan...Some of them cooperated with the Tartars and Franks (European Crusaders)...some of them (Shiites) backed the Christians.....They (Shiites) harbor more evil and rancor against Muslims, big and small, devout and non-devout, than anyone else. ...They enjoy repudiating and cursing Muslim leaders, especially the orthodox caliphs and the ulema (clerics). To them, anyone who does not believe in the infallible Imam (Al-Mahdi)Wikipedia -- who incidentally does not exist -- is a nonbeliever in God and the prophet... whenever Christians and infidels triumphed over, it was a day of jubilation ...This is the end of what Shaykh-al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said about them. It is as if he is living among us today, an eyewitness of what is taking place, and saying...They always support infidels, including Jews and Christians. They help them in killing Muslims.[24]

Beheadings and foreign attacks[edit]

Zarqawi is personally responsible for the beheading and murder of several foreigners including American Nicholas Berg.[25] About the same time, in April 2004, Jordanian security services foiled a second Zarqawi plot to use chemical weapons in an attack against the Jordanian prime minister, the secret service agency, the U.S. Embassy in Jordan, and other sites.

Split with Maqdisi[edit]

Zarqawi's activities became so infamous and outrageous his former spiritual mentor openly rebuked him. Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, while in a Jordanian prison in 2004, issued several writings, most notably al-Zarqawi: Support and Advice. In it, Maqdisi criticized the use of suicide bombings, targeting of civilians, and hostility toward Shiites. He also admonished video beheadings and planning armed operations in Jordan which could only result in the annihilation of the movement’s followers.

Emir of Iraq[edit]

Although on the run and in hiding, by 2004 bin Laden established himself internationally as the leader of global jihad. After prolonged negotiations, Zarqawi was granted the al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)[note 6] franchise and recognized by bin Laden as Emir of Iraq. Zarqawi was given wide latitude, however, to pursue his aims: al-Qaeda wanted to unite Sunni & Shi'a in the war against the global infidel alliance, but Zarqawi wanted to ignite sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'a to make post-Saddam Iraq ungovernable for the democratically-elected Shi'a allies of the United States.

Zarqawi pledged allegiance to bin Laden[26] in a statement posted to a website on October 17, 2004. The statement read: "Talks, during which views were exchanged between Sheikh Abu Mus'ab [Zarqawi]...and brothers from Al-Qaeda, have been going on for eight months." Zarqawi privately was arguing that the "Near Enemy"—apostates and the Shi’a—were more dangerous than the "Far Enemy"—the United States and the West.[27] The statement said that talks were interrupted for a time but then resumed, adding,

Our respected brothers in al-Qaeda understood the strategy of Jama'at al-Tawhid wa al-JihadWikipedia in the Land of the Two Rivers [Iraq] and the caliphates[note 7] and their hearts opened to their approach.... We deliver to the nation the news that both Jama'at al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad's Emir [Zarqawi] and soldiers have pledged allegiance to the sheikh of the mujahideen, Osama bin Laden, and that they will follow his orders in jihad for the sake of God so there will be no more tumult or oppression, and justice and faith in God will prevail.

The statement called on the "youth of this nation" to join Zarqawi's followers under the banner of al-Qaeda.

On December 28, 2004, bin Laden announced to the world the alliance with Zarqawi, applauded their "courageous operations against the Americans and against the apostate Alawi government", and sanctioned killing members of the Iraqi security forces and National Guard as apostate Muslims. Bin Laden capped the announcement by anointing Zarqawi Emir of Iraq and urging jihadis to follow and obey.[28]

Democracy against the rule of Allah[edit]

Shortly before the January 2005 Iraqi elections, Zarqawi released an audiotape indicating democracy to be at the center of his battle. Calling democracy "the big American lie...we have declared a bitter war against democracy and all those who seek to enact it...democracy is based on the right to choose your religion," and that is "against the rule of God." Zarqawi warned, "You have to be careful of the enemy's plots that involve applying democracy in your country and confront these plots, because they only want to ... give the rejectionists[note 8] the rule of Iraq. And after fighting the Baathists ... and the Sunnis, [the Americans] will spread their insidious beliefs, and Baghdad and all the Sunni areas will become Shiite. Even now, the signs of infidelity and polytheism[note 9] are on the rise."

Zarqawi alleged that four million illegal immigrant Iranians crossed the border to vote in the coming Iraqi elections. "Oh, people of Iraq, where is your honor? Have you accepted oppression of the crusader harlots ... and the rejectionist pigs?"[29]

Amman hotel bombings[edit]

On November 9, 2005, Zarqawi organized the killing of 58 people and the wounding of over 96 in a coordinated suicide bombing at three Amman, Jordan, hotels. Most of the victims were fellow Jordanian Sunnis.

Mujahideen Shura Council[edit]

In December 2005, Zarqawi called for all armed Sunni groups to rally under one banner and announced the creation of the Mujahideen Shura Council of Iraq. At least six groups are known to have participated. Zarqawi served as the council’s honorary leader, while its actual overseer was Hamed al-Zawi, also known as Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the First Baghdadi (not be be confused with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the first Caliph of the organization.)


On the left, a dead Zarqawi. On the right, a dead zarqawi

Zarqawi was killed on June 7, 2006, when the U.S. Air Force bombed a farmhouse north of Baqubah.[30]

Four members of parliament from the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood's Islamic Labor Front visited Zarqawi's family to pay their respects. One MP praised Zarqawi and called him shahid (martyr), infuriating the families of the Amman hotel bombing victims who demanded a formal apology from the Islamic Labor Front and filed legal complaints against the four MPs, leading to their detention.[31]

Five months after Zarqawi was killed, his successors made a bid to supersede al-Qaeda as the leader of global jihad by declaring the Islamic State of Iraq with Baquba as its “capital.” Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the First Baghdadi, was declared Emir of the “state.” His own successor was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who formed DAESH several years later.


  1. Or TakfirWikipedia meaning they can be righteously beheaded.
  2. The self-appointed Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, insists that while DAESH's founder Zarqawi swore an oath of loyalty to bin Laden, he, Baghdadi, never did.
  3. Zarqawi is said to have participated in some of the fighting and may have been wounded.
  4. These are the traditional opium smuggling routes used for several millennia. From Afghanistan through Iran, to Kurdistan, to Syria, to Turkey (through Kobani), into Europe proper.
  5. Ironically, the Saudi religious establishment has come to apply the term rejectionist to Sunnis or anyone who rejects their understanding of Wahhabism and support for the Saudi monarchy.
  6. Also known as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and al-Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers.
  7. A reference to lands occupied by former caliphates and the Salafis as the "Saved Sect".
  8. A reference to Iraqi Awakening Councils,The fourth stage of the Iraq Jihad, kavkazcenter.com
  9. A reference to the Christian trinity, the Shi'a Twelfth Imam, and citizens who obey (worship) laws emanating from legislative councils (multiple godheads).


  1. Al-Zarqawi Message, April 6 2004.
  2. A Virulent Ideology in Mutation: Zarqawi Upstages Maqdisi, Nibras Kazim, p. 1-2. hudson.org
  3. The Sheikh of the Slaughterers: Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi and the Al-Qaeda Connection, Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli, July 1, 2005. Middle East Media Research Institute Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No.231. memri.org
  4. Militant Ideology Atlas, Combating Terrorism Center at Westpoint, November 2006.
  5. expanding upon Sayyid Qutb's doctrine of tawhid hakamiyya; see The Power of Sovereignty: The Political and Ideological Philosophy of Sayyid Qutb, Sayed Khatab - February 14, 2006. Routledge. [1]
  6. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: A Biographical Sketch, Terrorism Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 24 December 15, 2004.
  7. Al-Qa’da's Foreign Fighters in Iraq, A First Look at the Sinjar Records, Brian Fishman & Joseph Felter, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, January 2, 2007, p. 24.
  8. Iraq's Insurgency and the Road to Civil Conflict, Volume I, p.94. Anthony H. Cordesman & Emma R. Davies, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008. [2] Jordanian Intelligence discovered three trucks with 20,000 pounds of explosives and chemicals. Zarqawi was arrested as the mastermind of the plot to blow up Jordanian Intelligence and the U.S. Embassy. The explosives were enough to kill 80,000 people and wound 160,000 others within two square kilometers.
  9. Abu Musab al-Suri published his Notes on the jihadist experience in Syria, citing 17 "bitter lessons" of the failed 1982 uprising. These short articles formed the basis for jihadist training in Afghanistan and elsewhere. See From Theory to Action: The Rationale behind the Re-establishment of the Caliphate. Terrorism Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: Jamestown Foundation. 15 July 25, 2014.
  10. Jabhat al-Nusra’s New Syria Strategy, Al Monitor, 01 2013.
  11. Exodus and Ascent, Bill Roggio, Long War Journal, 30 March 2005.
  12. How Chechnya Became a Breeding Ground for Terror, Lorenzo Vidino, Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2005, pp. 57-66.
  13. Al-Qa'ida and the War on Terror: After the War in Iraq, Ely Karmon, Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 10, No. 1 (March 2006).
  14. A Complete History of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, Abu al-Waleed al-Salafi, Translated by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi • Dec 15, 2015.
  15. https://cryptome.org/ansar-al-islam.htm
  16. https://web.archive.org/web/20020904054436/http://www.ikurd.info/file-oct-badri.htm
  17. http://www.cfr.org/iraq/iraq-iraqi-ties-terrorism/p7702#p6
  18. [http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34802317 Jihadist cell in Europe 'sought recruits for Iraq and Syria'
  19. Zarqawi's 'Total War' on Iraqi Shiites Exposes a Divide among Sunni Jihadists, Emily Hunt, Washington Institute Policy #1049, November 15, 2005.
  20. Al-Qaida tells terror chief to kill people less brutally, Rory Carroll, UK Guardian, 7 October 2005.
  21. A Pew Research survey conducted in 2012 found in most countries in the region only about half of Sunnis, or fewer, accept Shias as fellow Muslims. Pew Research, The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity, 2012.
  22. The Sunni-Shia Divide, Council on Foreign Relations.
  23. Zarqawi's Anti-Shi'a Legacy: Original or Borrowed? Nibras Kazimi, 1 November, 2006. hudson.org
  24. Text' of Al-Zarqawi Message, April 6, 2004. fas.org; see also Zarqawi Letter, February 2004. http://2001-2009.state.gov.
  25. Jamaat al-Tawhid wa'l-Jihad / Unity and Jihad Group / Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad in Bilad al-Rafidayn / Organization of Jihad's Base in the Country of the Two Rivers, globalsecurity.org, June 7, 2006.
  26. It is said Maqdisi's open rebuke of Zarqawi's reckless killing spree may have contributed to Zarqawi changing tack and pledging allegiance to bin Laden. Kazim, Virulent Mutation:Zarqawi upstages Maqdisi, p. 7.
  27. The Short, Violent Life of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Mary Anne Weaver, The Atlantic, July 1 2006.
  28. In Iraq, a clear-cut bin Laden-Zarqawi alliance, Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, December 30 2004.
  29. http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/meast/01/23/iraq.main/index.html
  30. U.S. Air Strike on Al-Zarqawi, Military Veterans Magazine. youtube.com
  31. http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=804#.VEcWz_BX-uY