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memri
January 17, 2005 No.
848

Al-Hayat Inquiry: The City of Al-Zarqaa in Jordan – Breeding Ground of Jordan's Salafi Jihad Movement

The London daily Al-Hayat published a three-part inquiry by correspondent Hazem Al-Amin on the Salafi Jihad movement in Jordan, particularly in the city of Al-Zarqaa – the birthplace of Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, the Al-Qa'ida leader in Iraq.

In Part One of the inquiry, published December 14, 2004, Al-Amin reviewed his impressions of his meeting with Jihad fighters from that city who had fought alongside Al-Zarqawi.

Part Two, published December 15, dealt with the social and political infrastructure, in an attempt to understand this city's unique contribution to the emergence of this and other extremist Islamist trends.

The following are excerpts from Parts One and Two: [1]

Al-Zarqaa Sent the Most Youths to Wage Jihad in Iraq

According to the inquiry, "Al-Zarqaa, located near the Al-Ruseifah Palestinian refugee camp, is the capital of the Salafi Jihad movement in Jordan, and the place from which it emerged. Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi grew up in one of its neighborhoods, and from there set out for the Jihad in Afghanistan, and then for the Jihad in Iraq." Likewise, the cities of Al-Zarqaa, Al-Ruseifah, and Al-Salt are "the Jordanian cities that sent the most youths to fight in Iraq… The well-known Al-Zarqaa residents who were killed in Iraq were supporters of Al-Zarqawi, Abd Al-Hadi Daghlas, Yassin Jarrad, and Yazan Nabil Jarada. This is in addition to the dozens [from Al-Zarqaa] who were martyred before, in Afghanistan."

Al-Zarqaa Residents Figure Prominently at Herat Camp, Afghanistan

"It appears that it was at the Herat camp [in Afghanistan] that Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi became the field commander of the groups [of Jihad fighters]. This is also the camp that the Jihad fighters from Al-Zarqaa have mentioned repeatedly throughout the history of their movement.

"Anyone who follows the Salafi Jihad stream agrees that the Herat camp in Afghanistan is a major episode in the building of Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi's organization in Iraq today. Al-Zarqawi founded this organization in 1999, when he went to Afghanistan. The nucleus of the camp consisted mostly of those from the city of Al-Zarqaa, such as Abd Al-Hadi Daghlas, a Palestinian who was recently killed in Iraq; Khaled Al-'Arouri, currently being held in Iran; and Yassin Jarrad, the father of Al-Zarqawi's second wife and the one who, according to the Jihad fighters in Al-Zarqaa, carried out the [September 2003] suicide attack that caused the death of Muhammad Bakr Al-Hakim and the deaths of dozens of Iraqis in the city of Najaf.

"The idea of establishing the Herat camp was based on [the assumption] that there were several hundred Arab fighters – Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians, and a few Lebanese – who preferred a leadership that would be independent of the Al-Qa'ida organization, following mild disagreements in the matter of belief that prevented them from taking an oath of allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Mullah Omar agreed at the time [to the idea of establishing an independent camp] and allocated for them an area near the city of Herat, on the condition that Muhammad Al-Khalayleh [Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi] would be camp commander."

According to a man named Ali who was among those in the camp, the fighters in the camp "lived pure Muhajiroun [2] lives under the leadership of Abu Mus'ab [Al-Zarqawi]."

Al-Zarqawi's Organization: Made Up of Extremist Palestinian Sheikhs Who Emigrated from Kuwait to Jordan

The inquiry noted that following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 Gulf War, 250,000 Palestinians emigrated from Kuwait to Jordan. This phenomenon was called "those who returned from Kuwait." The inquiry stated: "According to calculations by Jordanian experts and researchers, some 160,000 of these displaced persons came only to Al-Zarqaa. The experts noticed a connection between their return and the flourishing of the Salafi Jihad trend in Jordan, particularly in Al-Zarqaa."

According to the inquiry, the phenomenon of "the returnees from Kuwait" was perceived by many in Jordan as "a turning point in social change." The Jordan Center for Research at the University of Jordan conducted a survey on the matter and found that beginning in 1993, "the youth [in Jordan] became more conservative than the youth of preceding generations, and a large percentage of them supported polygamy and gave priority to educating boys rather than educating girls."

Among the returnees from Kuwait were "a number of people belonging to the Jihad stream, and at their head Sheikh Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, [whose real name is] Issam Muhammad Taher Al-Burqawi. [He is] a Palestinian who lived in Kuwait, who later became the spiritual teacher of this stream in Jordan, and in 1989 became Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi's teacher.

"[Al-Maqdisi] went from Kuwait to Afghanistan with the Palestinian sheikh Omar Mahmoud Abu Omar, known by the nickname Abu Qatadah. When Al-Maqdisi returned to Kuwait and then to Jordan, Abu Qatadah found refuge in London. [But] these two figures became the main source of authority of the Salafi Jihad ideology in Jordan…

"Also among the returnees from Kuwait was Abu Anas Al-Shami, the jurisprudence authority of Al-Zarqawi's organization, who was killed several months ago in Baghdad, as well as Abu Qutaybah, senior military official in the Al-Qa'ida organization. Also Ghazi Al-Tawba, a prominent leader in Al-Zarqawi's organization, lived in Kuwait.

"These and others, with Abu Mus'ab [Al-Zarqawi] at their head, constituted the nucleus of the Salafi Jihad movement. They met in the mid-1990s at one of the mosques in the Ma'ssoum neighborhood in the city of Al-Zarqaa."

The Influence of the Muslim Brotherhood

The inquiry found that another element in the strengthening of the Salafi stream in Jordan, and particularly in Al-Zarqaa, was "the events of September 1970, when the Jordanian army expelled the Palestinian organizations from the refugee camps in Amman and other Jordanian cities. The Muslim Brotherhood movement, which supported King Hussein in his war on the Palestinian organizations, was rewarded with the Jordanian education ministry. The role of this ministry in shaping the generations educated with curricula supervised by the Muslim Brotherhood is well known…

"In 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood members who were identified with Sayyid Qutb, headed by Abdallah 'Azzam – later the sheikh of the Arab Afghans and Osama bin Laden's teacher [3] – together with Sheikh Ahmad Nawfal and Sheikh Dib Anis, joined what was called the Sheikhs' Camp that had been established by the Fatah movement in the Al-Aghwar region in [the] Jordan [Valley]. Since then, the [Muslim] Brotherhood stream that was affiliated with Sayyid Qutb began to distance itself from the movement; then Salafism increased among these circles… Hassan Abu Haniyyah, who researched Islamic movements in Jordan, pointed out that [as early as] the 1960s these sheikhs were influenced by the Salafi stream, following the lectures of the Syrian Sheikh Nasser Al-Din Al-Albani in the mosques of Al-Zarqaa."

Working Together: Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi and Al-Zarqawi

The inquiry also examined the relationship between Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, currently behind bars in Jordan, and Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi: "Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi arrived in Jordan as an immigrant from Kuwait in 1991. At that time, he was known only amongst the Salafi Jihad circles, particularly among a few hundred Jordanians who had heard about him or met him in Afghanistan where he had gone [to wage] Jihad.

"The Afghan Palestinians and Jordanians – among them Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi – constituted the nucleus of the stream that Al-Maqdisi had begun to organize. The Jordanian Jihadis spoke of this period as 'the beginning of the Da'wa [Islamic propagation],' and they described Al-Maqdisi's rounds starting from his home in the Al-Ruseifah camp next to Al-Zarqaa. He would visit their homes in the various Jordanian cities, usually joined by Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi." Furthermore, "a former Salafi Jihadi said that the Da'wa focused at that time on declaring the [Arab] regimes as infidel [ Takfir ], and on opposition to the Muslim brotherhood."

According to the inquiry, after Jordan signed the peace agreement with Israel in 1994, "the Salafi Jihad movement was being nourished by a new wellspring. A former Salafi Jihad activist pointed out the emergence of dozens of clandestine Jihad organizations in Jordan during that time; at one point he was even a member of one of the organizations and his friends tried several times to convince him to join their organizations – while all the while, unbeknownst to them, he was already a member in another organization. He noted that he remained a member of this organization for five years without the security apparatuses managing to uncover it.

"The most prominent of the clandestine organizations established in Jordan was perhaps the Bayat Al-Imam organization, founded by Al-Maqdisi and Al-Zarqawi. Some time after the establishment of [this organization], the Jordanian security apparatuses uncovered weapons and explosives in the possession of Al-Maqdisi and Al-Zarqawi, and both were imprisoned until 1999. During the period of their incarceration, the two managed to organize a not inconsiderable number of activists… In their activity among the prisoners, the two relied on Abu Mus'ab's strong-arm tactics and his familiarity with the world of the criminals amongst whom he had lived in his youth.

"Similarly, [Al-Maqdisi's and Al-Zarqawi's] supporters outside the prison never stopped visiting the two, bringing them letters and delivering letters from them. The number of essays and books on issuing fatwas and [Islamic] heritage [written by] Al-Maqdisi in prison reached to about 100, and his supporters reiterate their titles with pride.

"It [also] appears that in prison Abu Mus'ab set up a network of connections that would help him when he left [prison in 1999] and made months-long preparations to again go to Afghanistan accompanied by dozens [of his men] who were in the Jordanian prison and by others who waited for him to leave [prison]…

"One of [Al-Zarqawi's] former cronies said that the last time [Al-Zarqawi] left [Jordan], the [Jordanian] security apparatuses paid him no mind. This was before the events of September 11, and Al-Zarqawi's departure from Jordan together with his group was a relief to the security apparatuses."

The inquiry related that "[a man called] Abu 'Othman said that Abu Muhammad [Al-Maqdisi]'s personality was kind and good, and non-confrontational, while Abu Mus'ab [Al-Zarqawi] showed strength and toughness in the prison. Abu 'Othman added that the tribal personality of Abu Mus'ab [Al-Zarqawi] made it possible for him to obtain oaths of allegiance from others within the prison, and that he was confrontational. The youths surrounding him in prison were actual Jihad fighters, and thus they rejected the command of Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, preferring Abu Mus'ab [Al-Zarqawi] because of his strength and determination. They thought that if [Al-Zarqawi] was [their] imam, Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi would have spare time for engaging in independent judicial ruling [ Ijtihad ] and [religious] study."

Al-Zarqawi's Modus Operandi in Iraq

The Jihad fighters "related that Abu Mus'ab [Al-Zarqawi] used the experience of the [Iraqi] Ba'th[ists] in his war on the Americans and Iraqis, including regarding the security issue. [A man named] Ahmad clarified that this was particularly true regarding the city of Al-Fallujah, which contained hundreds of former Iraqi military intelligence officers with great experience in the security sphere. Dozens of them took an oath of allegiance to Abu Mus'ab [Al-Zarqawi], and renounced the previous secular regime…"

The inquiry showed the Al-Zarqaa Jihad fighters' attitude towards the dispute between Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi and Al-Zarqawi in the matter of the path of Al-Zarqawi's Jihad in Iraq. Recently, he published an article in which "he expressed his reservations regarding the behavior of his disciple Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi in Iraq. [4]

"This enraged the young Jihad fighters, who see Abu Mus'ab [Al-Zarqawi] as 'divine grace, and it is heresy for anyone to think he made a mistake, even regarding his teacher and guide Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi.'"

The inquiry also reported that "a man called Muhammad noted that he visited the sheikh in prison and asked him to refrain [from writing] things that harmed unity in the ranks."


[1] Al-Hayat (London), December 14-15, 2004.

[2] The Muhajiroun were companions of the Prophet Muhammad who emigrated with him to the city of Al-Madina.

[3] The inquiry also notes, "Abdallah 'Azzam himself lived in Al-Zarqaa before he moved to Amman to study at the University of [Amman]."

[4] In July 2004, Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi posted on his website an article titled "Al-Zarqawi – Aid and Advice," in which he wrote: "I say and stress that I am listening to and following the chaos that rages today in Iraq, by means of which they want to defile the Jihad and its honorable image by blowing up cars or setting explosive devices in the roads, by firing mortars in the streets and marketplaces, and other places where Muslims congregate. The hands of the Jihad fighters must remain clean so that they will not be stained by the blood of those who must not be harmed even if they are rebellious and shameless… You must also beware of entanglement by choosing means [of warfare] that are illegal in [Islamic] law, or means and methods opposed to the proper choices preferred by the Jihad fighter, or of including these as part of the reaction to the crimes of the tyrants – such as if the fighter crosses the borders of [Islamic] law by abducting or killing those who are among the Muslims on pretexts not based on Islamic law such as the claim that they work for the infidels where such acts do not reach the [level] of aid to the infidels or aid in harming Muslims." See http://www.abu-qatada.com/r?i=2979&a=p.