The liberation of Fallujah, a terrorist stronghold, by American and Iraqi forces has given the world an extraordinary close-up of day to day life in a city controlled by archterrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi. Coalition forces searching the city have found makeshift prisons where hostages were slaughtered, mosques that were turned into armories and laboratories where crude chemical weapons were apparently produced.
A New York Times reporter recently visited several terrorist safehouses in liberated Fallujah. In one, a black banner with the words “One God and Jihad” (the former name of Zarqawi’s terrorist organization) and a yellow sun frequently seen in the background on hostage beheading videos was prominently displayed. In another house there was a wire cage large enough to hold a human being, and a wall marked with what looked to be a fingerprint in dried blood. Soldiers carried away handcuffs, knives and bayonets and jihadist propaganda materials much like those found in al Qaeda hideouts in Afghanistan after the United States drove the Taliban from power three years ago. Some of the items were crusted with a substance that looked like blood.
Inside one such house, soldiers found a handcuffed man along with rotting food. The man told U.S. troops that he thought he was in Syria. In fact, he had been held captive by Syrian terrorists. In all, coalition forces have found at least 20 of what they refer to as “atrocity sites” in Fallujah that were used by insurgents to imprison, torture and kill hostages. At one such site, a room had “handprints on the walls and along the sides of the walls,” said Marine Maj. Jim West. “There was blood covering the entire wall and on the floorboard area….We found numerous houses where people were just chained to a wall for extended periods of time.” Coalition forces found signs of “torture, murder, very gruesome sights,” Maj. West added.
In one building believed to have been Zarqawi’s headquarters, soldiers found documents with information on shooting down aircraft, along with drawings of American F-16 and F-18 planes. There was a repair shop for antitank rounds and a factory used to build car bombs. Throughout Fallujah, U.S. forces found large caches of weapons amassed by the Zarqawi terror network, including rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and surface-to-air missiles.
There were also factories for the production of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — roadside bombs — which have been responsible for countless American and Iraqi deaths since the war began last year. The devices were found all over Fallujah — in furniture, toys, doorways and rooms inside buildings that U.S. Marines were attempting to clear.
“So clearly, besides being a safe haven for [terrorist] leadership and command and control, Fallujah was a center for making the IEDs that were being produced and used in other parts of the country to attack the coalition,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith.
Soldiers found a chemical weapons laboratory with lethal chemicals such as sodium cyanide, hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid. U.S. soldiers and intelligence officials believe that the terrorists were using the chemicals in an attempt to manufacture bombs. Iraqi security officials said they found a suspected chemical laboratory in a house in southwestern Fallujah where terrorists also discussed anthrax production.
Military planners at U.S. Central Command said that every one of the 77 mosques encountered by Iraqi and coalition forces in Fallujah was used as a weapons storage facility or a fortress from which to launch attacks. On Wednesday, U.S. troops announced that they had recovered the largest weapons cache to date at a Fallujah mosque. American forces also found what they believe was a mobile bomb-making factory in the mosque compound.
In sum, the terrorists who have controlled Fallujah for much of this year made it into a terrorist base from which to maim and murder Iraqis and coalition forces who came to liberate them. They had no compunctions about turning mosques and private homes into military targets by using them in their murderous plots. That needs to be kept in mind as fighting intensifies and coalition forces step up their hunt for Zarqawi’s terrorists inside other densely populated cities.