Thursday, May 13, 2004

The CIA concluded yesterday that the hooded terrorist shown beheading an American civilian in a videotape is al Qaeda-linked terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi.

“After the intelligence community conducted a technical analysis of the video posted on May 11, the CIA assessed with high probability that the speaker on the tape is Zarqawi and that person is shown decapitating American citizen Nicholas Berg,” a U.S. official said.

Zarqawi, 37, is a Jordanian of Palestinian descent who is leading anticoalition terrorist operations in Iraq against U.S. and allied forces, according to American intelligence officials.

He was the hooded man who appeared in the middle of five men in the video of the slaying of Mr. Berg, 26, the Pennsylvania businessman found decapitated in Baghdad on Saturday.

Although he would not specify whether Zarqawi wielded the knife, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told reporters in Baghdad that “indications that we are getting is that Zarqawi did it.”

Mr. Berg’s father, Michael, yesterday blamed President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for his son’s death.

“My son died for the sins of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. This administration did this,” Mr. Berg’s father told a Philadelphia radio station. He said the terrorists “did not know what they were doing. They killed their best friend.”

Asked about the father’s comments, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, “The Berg family is going through a very difficult period, and they remain in our thoughts and prayers.”

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry told Fox News that he had spoken to Michael Berg to express sympathy.

“I mean, as a parent, if I lost one of my children that way, visibly, learning about it the way he did, I’d personally give up whatever I’m doing and I’d spend the rest of my life trying to bring those people to justice,” he said, adding that Mr. Berg “feels let down by those who should have been protecting his son.”

Meanwhile in Iraq, a Mosul police chief said Mr. Berg was never arrested by Iraqi authorities and a friend said that Mr. Berg planned to leave Iraq through Turkey.

Mosul Police Chief Maj. Gen. Mohammed Khair al-Barhawi said his department had never arrested Mr. Berg and said he had no knowledge of the case. “The Iraqi police never arrested the slain American,” he told reporters. “Take it from me … that such reports are baseless.”

Questions about Mr. Berg’s travel and kidnapping in Iraq remain unanswered.

A defense official said he was a contractor looking for work who was abducted by Iraqis and who was never in U.S. custody, as some news reports have said.

Some U.S. officials say Mr. Berg was arrested by Iraqi police March 24 based on suspicion he was involved in improper activities. He was then released and disappeared until video of his killing was posted on an al Qaeda-linked Web site Tuesday.

Zarqawi is an Islamist extremist who is close to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, but who in the past was not part of the formal network of al Qaeda terrorists.

For the past year, he has been the focal point of foreign fighters and terrorists in Iraq who have been attempting to drive the U.S.-led coalition out of the country.

The U.S. military and intelligence community have launched an intensive manhunt for Zarqawi because it is believed that stopping him and his group is key to stabilizing Iraq.

Recent Zarqawi terrorist operations included the bombing of U.N. headquarters in Iraq in August that killed 22 persons, including U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. Some 150 others were wounded in the bombing.

A second attack linked to Zarqawi took place in November when a truck filled with explosives blew up a building used by Italian military police in southern Iraq. The blast killed 12 persons and injured several others.

A third bombing, the August attack on the Imam Ali Mosque in Al Najaf, was also linked to Zarqawi. That blast killed 125 persons, including Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, the spiritual leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

At least three other bombing attacks in the past year have been linked to Zarqawi, an explosives expert who has been operating inside Iraq before the U.S.-led coalition ousted the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said at a Senate hearing Wednesday that Zarqawi has tried to foment a sectarian civil war in Iraq between Muslim Shi’ites and Sunnis.

“He will do anything to stop the progress in Iraq,” Gen. Myers told the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Rumsfeld said at the same hearing that Zarqawi operates a terrorist network separate from the one directed by bin Laden.

“He hasn’t sworn allegiance to [bin Laden],” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “He’s running his own network, but he’s the next-best thing. He’s as close to [bin Laden] as you can get without having decided that he wants to give up his own independence and swear allegiance to him.”

“He’s not a member of al Qaeda, but has long-standing ties with a number of senior al Qaeda leaders,” a U.S. official said. “He continues to have ties with Ansar al Islam and terrorists in other Middle Eastern and European countries.”

Shadi Abdallah, a Jordanian-born Muslim, told German authorities that Zarqawi and bin Laden tried to recruit him into their terrorist factions during training in Afghanistan in 2001. Mr. Abdallah joined the Zarqawi group, known as Al Tawhid, because of the group’s links to Islamists from Jordan. Mr. Abdallah is serving a four-year prison term in Germany on terrorist-related charges. Details of the interrogation were disclosed earlier this week in the Christian Science Monitor.

Zarqawi wanted Mr. Abdallah to conduct terrorist attacks in Germany. “An attack in Germany would have made Al Tawhid very famous,” Abdallah reportedly said in an interrogation. “It would have sent the same [message] as the attacks of al Qaeda on September 11, namely that our organization is as active in other parts of the world.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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