Zarqawi Seen as Ally and Possible Rival of Bin Laden Bruce Hoffman, a terorrism expert at the Rand Corporation, says Abu Musab al-Zarqawi moved into Iraq from Jordan because of a desire to follow in the footsteps of Osama bin Laden as an Islamist rebel. But Hoffman says admiration of bin Laden may have turned to rivalry.

Zarqawi Seen as Ally and Possible Rival of Bin Laden

Zarqawi Seen as Ally and Possible Rival of Bin Laden

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5460474/5460475" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Bruce Hoffman, a terorrism expert at the Rand Corporation, says Abu Musab al-Zarqawi moved into Iraq from Jordan because of a desire to follow in the footsteps of Osama bin Laden as an Islamist rebel. But Hoffman says admiration of bin Laden may have turned to rivalry.

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

Renee, to learn more about who Zarqawi really and how he came to play such a pivotal role in Iraq, we're joined by Bruce Hoffman, who studies terrorism at the RAND Corportation. Good morning, Bruce.

Mr. BRUCE HOFFMAN (Chair of Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency, RAND Corporation): Hi, Mike.

SHUSTER: Bruce, how did this man, an obscure figure just a few years ago, from Jordan, end up being the leading figure - or a leading figure in the very bloody insurgency in Iraq?

Mr. HOFFMAN: Two things I think. One was personal hubris and ambition for grandeur. And the second is that he borrowed a page from his mentor and I think one-time idol, which is Osama bin Laden. He really saw himself as becoming the Osama bin Laden of Iraq; and Iraq was going to be the battleground that catapulted to worldwide prominence, as indeed it has.

SHUSTER: Bruce, why do you say his one-time idol, bin Laden? What was the relationship between Zarqawi and bin Laden?

Mr. HOFFMAN: Well, it's always been a slightly ambiguous one, in the sense that Zarqawi has always been an unabashed admirer of bin Laden and has sought to follow in bin Laden's footsteps. But as an admirer, he inevitably also came to be seen, at least by bin Laden and bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as actually a rival, or actually as an upstart. So, in that sense, Zarqawi, for example, during the 1990s went to Afghanistan, trained in bin Laden's camps there, but always had his own cell or his own group within the bin Laden camp; never amalgamated or allied his people with bin Laden's, in fact spurned those entreaties. So he was always kind of with bin Laden, but not of bin Laden; following in his footsteps, but seeking to compete with him.

SHUSTER: This notion that Zarqawi was an upstart is interesting. Over the past year, there's been a lot written on jihadist websites about that possibility. Do we really know whether Zarqawi viewed himself as wanting to eclipse bin Laden, in some sense, in the worldwide jihadist movement?

Mr. HOFFMAN: Well, I think that's certainly the case; because he embarked on this particularly heinous and bloodthirsty terrorist campaign I think exactly to firstly emulate or attempt to go bin Laden one better and show that even the 9/11 could be eclipsed by individual acts of barbarity such as Zarqawi, himself, beheading - or is at least believed to have beheaded at least two of the American hostages his group seized. But we also know that, at least over the past couple of years, there have been several messages or attempts by bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, as it were, to reign Zarqawi in, and I think to stop him for these egregious acts of violence, particularly against Shia; to convince him that there's a more affective way of waging jihad than the uniquely bloodthirsty one that Zarqawi did.

And I think what's happened is consistently Zarqawi spurned those entreaties and really tried to demonstrate that he is own person. And consequently - I think ironically, that probably next to President Bush and General Casey and Prime Minister Maliki, some of the people that are the most happy about his demise will likely be bin Laden and al-Zawahiri.

SHUSTER: That's very interesting. Bruce, thanks very much. Bruce Hoffman is the author of Inside Terrorism.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.