- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

From combined dispatches

ZARQA, Jordan — In the bleak Jordanian city where Abu Musab Zarqawi grew up, shocked relatives mourned the death of the al Qaeda leader in Iraq as a loss to Islam and prayed for 1,000 “Zarqawis” to fight the Americans in his place.

“This is a tragedy. We are all sad here,” said Zarqawi’s uncle, Yazm Khalayleh, 64.

“We have to be sad because he was fighting the infidels. Anyone who says he is not sad is lying; people believe he is a martyr. We do not want to believe that he is dead.”

Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. air raid in Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi officials said yesterday.

Zarqawi’s favorite sister refused to believe her brother had been killed and said she hoped God will find someone even better to replace him as an Iraq insurgent leader.

“Are you really sure he is dead?” Umm Qudama, 33, asked people gathered around her as a camera crew from Al Jazeera television prepared to interview her husband.

Zarqawi, who masterminded hundreds of suicide bombings in Iraq and was blamed for the videotaped beheadings of foreign hostages, had come to symbolize the Islamic insurgency against U.S.-led forces occupying Iraq.

Relatives and neighbors called Zarqawi a hero of Islam and said they hoped his death would not impede the insurgency in Iraq.

“God willing, there will be 1,000 Zarqawis to fight the Americans,” said another relative, Ahmed Khalayleh.

Born Ahmed Fadhil al-Khalayleh to a notable family that is part of the biggest tribe in Jordan, Zarqawi grew up in the dusty streets of Zarqa, an industrial city in which unemployment is high and Islamic militancy widespread.

Jailed by Jordanian authorities for several years in the early 1990s, Zarqawi went on to fight U.S. forces in Iraq, where al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden named him the “prince” of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Jordan condemned Zarqawi to death in 2004 for the killing of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in Jordan two years earlier.

In the village of Hibhib, Iraq, near Baqouba, where Zarqawi was killed, residents expressed disbelief yesterday that the al Qaeda leader had been living among them.

“I don’t know anything about Abu Musab or anyone else being here,” said a teenager who declined to give his name, standing in the rubble, inspecting blankets amid crushed concrete.

“The Americans have a habit of bombing places and then claiming Zarqawi or others were there,” he said.

Police escorted reporters to the house they said was destroyed in the U.S. air raid. But residents were skeptical.

“Zarqawi. Zarqawi. Zarqawi. That’s all we hear about. Zarqawi was not here. This home belonged to displaced people,” said a village resident, holding up a teddy bear and a child’s knapsack buried in the destruction.

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