Family Mourns Zarqawi in Jordanian Home Town
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
In the Jordanian city of Zarqa, northeast of Amman, relatives are mourning the death of Ahmed al-Khalayleh. He's better known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born head of al-Qaida in Iraq, who was killed in a U.S. air strike on Wednesday. Zarqa was where he was raised and is the source of his nom de guerre.
Reporter Kristen Gillespie attended last night's wake for Zarqawi, and she joins us now on the line from Amman. Good morning.
KRISTEN GILLESPIE reporting:
Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Tell us about the mourning for Zarqawi.
GILLESPIE: Yesterday, after Zarqawi's family heard about his death - and they heard about it on television, they said - they set up a condolence tent in front of the house where Zarqawi grew up. And this is a large tent with the front of it taken off; so it's a three-sided tent.
There is a large banner hanging, saying that this is a celebration for the martyrdom of their hero, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. And because they didn't consider it a funeral, they considered it a celebration, they were passing out sweets. And several dozen relatives and friends, all male, because the women mourn separately, had come by to pass along their condolences.
MONTAGNE: Zarqawi may have his supporters in his hometown of Zarqa, but he was no hero to most Jordanians.
GILLESPIE: Zarqawi has a mixed record in Jordan, in terms of his public support. He is a polarizing figure because of his tactics. People either support him or they really can't stand him. Now, Zarqawi has a personal vengeance against the regime here, the monarchy and the intelligence services that back it up. They've put him in prison several times, and since Zarqawi left Jordan in 1999, he's been fixated on trying to overthrow the Jordanian regime. And he's done that by plotting attacks that would have occurred the night before the millennium. They wanted to blow up the intelligence services in 2004. In 2002, Zarqawi reportedly plotted the death - the assassination of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley, and of course, most notoriously, last November he was, he took full credit for the triple suicide bombings that hit three hotels in Amman, Jordan.
MONTAGNE: There are reports that Jordanian intelligence had something to do with helping to locate Zarqawi's hiding place. What do you know about that?
GILLESPIE: Right now, there are mixed reports coming out about how, exactly, Zarqawi was pinpointed. What I can tell you is what Jordanian intelligence officials are telling me; at lest three of them have told me the exact same thing: that Jordanian intelligence, after the triple bombings last November, openly said that they were going to find Zarqawi. That they were not going to wait for him to come back. They were not going to wait for him to hit again in Jordan. They were going to go out and find him wherever he was.
And from what I understand, Jordan established a very strong network of on-the-ground intelligence, which is not always easy for the Americans to do in Iraq. And from that they were able to at least pinpoint the area of Zarqawi.
MONTAGNE: Now, he was imprisoned in Jordan in the early 1980s. Tell us just a bit about his life before he traveled to Iraq.
GILLESPIE: Before Zarqawi went to Iraq, he grew up as a street thug in the streets of Zarqa. He was in and out of prison. And it was there, reportedly, in prison, where he became radicalized; he was recruited by the Islamists in Jordanian prisons. When he got out in 1989, he went to Afghanistan, and again, it was there where he received further training.
When the - he was put back in prison during the '90s, and he was released in 1999, when King Abdullah of Jordan came to power. And this, again, has, there's that blending of the personal vengeance Zarqawi has with the Jordanian regime. From there, he passed into northern Iraq and reportedly Iran, and has been there ever since.
MONTAGNE: Reporter Kristen Gillespie speaking to us from Amman, Jordan.