Monday, July 5, 2004

LONDON — Abu Musab Zarqawi, the most-wanted terrorist in Iraq, has staked his claim to lead the jihad against the American presence by releasing a slickly produced video of suicide bombers and several of their attacks.

The hour-long production is part political manifesto, part recruiting campaign and part propaganda to tell the United States that its intense efforts to find the Jordanian-born militant leader have been a failure.

The video released by Zarqawi’s group chronicles what are supposedly the final days and hours of the suicide bombers as they prepare themselves for “martyrdom operations.”

There are scenes of them praying, relaxing and reading out final statements.

“How can I live peacefully at a time when the holy and sacred places have been violated, and the country is usurped, and the infidels are encroaching on our country and humiliating our religion?” asks one purported bomber, reading his statement as armed, masked men stand behind him at night.

“How can I live, and others live, while our sisters are prisoners of the Americans in Iraq?”

One scene records cars passing quietly across a bridge, followed by an explosion that sends up a large fireball. The tape does not say where the attack occurred.

But other bombings are said to include the attack on General Electric contractors in Baghdad on June 14, in which the bomber explains that “the doors of hell have been opened to receive the infidels.”

The video also appears to show the May 17 suicide car bombing that killed the president of the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council, Izzadine Saleem.

The footage, taken from a parked car, shows a convoy of white four-wheel-drive cars disappearing down a Baghdad street, followed a moment later by a ball of flame and an explosion that cracks the windshield of the cameraman’s car.

In recording the bombings, Zarqawi’s organization, Tawhid wal Jihad (“Unity and Holy War”), shows it knows how to manipulate the Western media. The footage was given to Time magazine’s Baghdad bureau chief, Michael Ware, by men reported to be in close contact with Zarqawi’s network.

Mr. Ware said the video “is a very, very sophisticated part of Zarqawi’s information campaign, stamping him as the star of the new global jihad inspired by Osama bin Laden.”

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