- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

ZARQA, Jordan Washington and London call him Abu Mussab Zarqawi and say he is the proof that links Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda terrorism.
But here in Jordan, the man known as Ahmed Fadeel Khalailah is described as a devout Muslim who was unfairly prosecuted by the Jordanian government until he fled the country to find work to support his family.
"The man they describe as a terrorist, no, that is not my son," said Um Saiel Khalailah, his mother. "They accuse him of many things, but none of them are true."
Zarqawi, 36, was singled out by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell as proof that Saddam Hussein had aligned with al Qaeda. In his dramatic presentation to the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5, Mr. Powell said Zarqawi, a charismatic recruiter with a gift for explosives, had received medical attention in Baghdad last year after nearly losing a leg in an accident in Afghanistan.
"Iraq harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Mussab Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenant," Mr. Powell said.
He or his associates are considered suspects in the assassination of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley, who was fatally shot in his Amman driveway in October. He also has been sentenced in absentia to life in prison in Jordan for his role in planning the aborted New Year's 2000 terrorist attacks, targeting foreign visitors to Amman.
Zarqawi also has been under investigation in Europe, where he is thought to have planned attacks including a plot to use the chemical weapon ricin, which was foiled in London in early January.
None of this is acceptable, or plausible, to his mother.
"Anyone who attends the mosque regularly, they put in prison," Mrs. Khalailah said. "It's true that he memorized the Koran and prays regularly, but that doesn't mean anything."
Jordanian authorities, published reports say, have linked Zarqawi to attacks on Israeli targets in the 1990s.
After his release, during a general amnesty after King Hussein's death in 1999, Mrs. Khalailah said, her son was unable to find work because the Jordanian government intimidated potential employers.
She said he eventually took a job in Pakistan, working for a company in the honey trade. His young family followed him there, although they have since returned to Zarqa and now live in her house.
Mrs. Khalailah, who goes by the name Um Saiel, seemed unaware that some anti-terrorism investigators say al Qaeda has used the honey trade to hide some of its funds. She is a deeply religious woman who will not receive unfamiliar men in her home and who refuses to be photographed.
On a recent afternoon, door closed against a pounding winter rain, Mrs. Khalailah warily welcomed guests into her spare living room, warmed by a gas heater.
Bundled in a heavy green velvet dress, white cotton scarf pulled tightly around her head and neck, Mrs. Khalailah poured small cups of Arabic coffee with steady hands. She has been answering a lot of questions about Ahmed, a middle-born of her 10 children. She accuses the Jordanian government and its intelligence services of hounding her family.
Mrs. Khalailah rejected the picture of her son as an explosives expert, saying, "He never studied that. It needs a lot of brains, and he wasn't that smart."
As a young man, Ahmed Khalailah was a popular if bookish child who loved reading Arabic stories and sometimes played soccer in the street with other children, she said.
At 22, he married a distant cousin, then found a job in local government, but he was never happy, his mother said.
"He said there is no hope in this town, not enough opportunities," Mrs. Khalailah said. So, like many young men from Zarqa, he went abroad.
U.S. intelligence officials say Mr. Zarqawi left his hometown 30 miles north of Amman for Pakistan and then Afghanistan, where he received training in explosives and chemical weapons.
Mrs. Khalailah says she has no idea where her son is. He last telephoned her four months ago, for a few moments, to tell her he was well.
"I was so happy to hear from him," she said. "What mother would not be?"


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