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Pak jihadis' hand in Nick Berg's murder?

May 12, 2004

The savage beheading of Nick Berg, a 26-year-old American civilian somewhere in Iraq last week by a group of five masked men, brings to mind Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was butchered under similar circumstances in early 2002.

Pearl was murdered by a group of Pakistani jihadi terrorists belonging to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen-Al Alami and Jaish-e-Mohammad. All are members Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front, whose worldwide activities are now being co-ordinated by Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Tayiba.

The modus operandi is similar and the denunciation of not only President Bush, but also Pakistan's military dictator Pervez Musharraf by the killers in their statement read out before beheading Berg, is an indicator of Pakistani jihadi involvement in the killing.

The video-recording of the beheading as displayed on the jihadi web site linked with Al Qaeda was titled 'Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shown slaughtering an American.' But reliable sources in Karachi, who had seen the video, say the murder has the clear fingerprints of the three organisations which kidnapped and killed Pearl.

If Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was indeed the person who did the beheading, it proves that these three Pakistani organisations are working in tandem with Abu Musab's outfit.

Since the beginning of last year, jihadis of these three organisations as well as of Lashkar-e-Tayiba and the dregs of Al Qaeda, particularly its Chechen component, have been moving into Iraq in small groups or in ones and twos through Saudi Arabia as well as possibly Iran. Their objective: to participate in the jihad against the US and bring about its defeat just as they believe they brought about the defeat of the erstwhile USSR in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

These movements to Iraq started during the Haj pilgrimage before the US-led invasion of Iraq last year. Many members of the Harkat and other organisations went to Saudi Arabia under the garb of pilgrims and then crossed into Iraq. More went after the US-led occupation of Iraq, particularly during the recent Haj pilgrimage.

Of the organisations from Pakistan presently operating in Iraq, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is strongly anti-Shia with many years of close association with Abu Musab. The Harkat and Jaish too have a strong anti-Shia streak. The Lashkar-e-Tayiba, however, avoids anti-Shia rhetoric and attacks.

There are conflicting accounts of Abu Musab's jihadi career. Abu Musab is his kuniyat(assumed name). Al-Zarqawi means from Zarqa, which is a town in Jordan. Abu Musab thus means 'father of Musab of the town Zarqa in Jordan.'

His real name is believed to be Ahmad Fadil Al-Khalailah, which means Ahmad, son of Fadil of al-Khalil, the name that Arabs use for the Israeli town of Hebron. His family apparently migrated to Jordan from al-Khalil (Hebron) and he was born in Zarqa. He also uses the kuniyats Abu Ahmad, Abu Muhammad and Sakr Abu Suwayd.

He fought against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. After the Soviets withdrew, he returned to Jordan and tried to organise a movement against King Hussein. He was arrested by the Jordanian authorities and jailed for seven years. After his release, he took up residence in Europe and then returned to Afghanistan in 1998.

He was associated with an organisation called the Jamaat al-Tawhid wa'l-Jihad [Unity and Jihad Group], whose objective was the overthrow of the monarchy in Jordan and the proclamation of an Islamic Caliphate. The Al Tawhid is believed to have a presence in Europe, independent of Al Qaeda, particularly in Germany, the UK and Spain. It is not known to be a member of the IIF.

On April 23, 2002, German authorities arrested Shadi Abdalla, Mohamed Abu Dhess, Aschraf al-Dagma, Ismail Shalabi and Djamel Moustfa on charges of belonging to al-Tawhid and planning to carry out acts of terrorism in Germany.

The German account of Abu Musab's jihadi career, according to which he had visited Iran in the past, contradicted the perception of him as anti-Shia. The Jordanian authorities have linked him to Al Qaeda's Millennium bombing plot targeting the Radisson SAS hotel in Amman as well as other American, Israeli, and Christian religious sites in Jordan and to the October 28, 2002, assassination of US diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman.

Some reports projected him as a close associate of bin Laden, but others claimed that before 9/11, he had his own training infrastructure, independent of Al Qaeda, in Herat in the Kandahar-Jalalabad region of Afghanistan.

His name did not figure often in the accounts of the jihad of the 1980s against the Soviet troops. But it did post-1998, when he was reported to have brought a number of Jordanians to Afghanistan for training, initially in bin Laden's training camp and subsequently in his own.

Whenever he visited Pakistan on his way to and back from Afghanistan, he used to stay with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leaders in Jhang in Punjab and in Karachi.

He was a close personal friend of Maulana Azam Tariq, former head of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi's political wing, who was assassinated last October.

In his address to the UN Security Council in February 2003, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, said: 'Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda lieutenants. Zarqawi, a Palestinian born in Jordan, fought in the Afghan war more than a decade ago. Returning to Afghanistan in 2000, he oversaw a terrorist training camp. One of his specialties, and one of the specialties of this camp, is poisons. When our coalition ousted the Taliban, the Zarqawi network helped establish another poison and explosive training camp, and this camp is located in northeastern Iraq.'

He then described a camp producing ricin and other poisons, operated by the 'radical organization Ansar al-Islam that controls this corner of Iraq' and added: 'He traveled to Baghdad in May of 2002 for medical treatment, staying in the capital of Iraq for two months while he recuperated to fight another day. During his stay, nearly two dozen extremists converged on Baghdad and established a base of operations there.

'These Al Qaeda affiliates based in Baghdad now coordinate the movement of people, money and supplies into and throughout Iraq for his network, and they have now been operating freely in the capital for more than eight months. Iraqi officials deny accusations of ties with Al Qaeda. These denials are simply not credible. We know these affiliates are connected to Zarqawi because they remain, even today, in regular contact with his direct subordinates, including the poison cell plotters. And they are involved in moving more than money and material.'

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B Raman

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