Abu Musab al-Zarqawi Biography


Birthday: October 30, 1966 (Scorpio)

Born In: Zarqa, Jordan

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a Jordanian-born Iraqi militant and the founder of the al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. In his teens, he plunged into a world of drugs, street violence, and alcohol. Later, he joined a local Islamist magazine in Afghanistan. He then went to Pakistan, where, along with Muhammad al-Maqdisi, he formed Bayat al-Imam to unite Jordanian Afghan fighters. After the fall of Kabul, he and Maqdisi were arrested and jailed in Jordan. He was later released and took help from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda to form his own terror organization, the Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. Though his initial aim was to oust the Jordanian monarchy, he deviated later. He helped the al-Qaeda enter Iraq through Syria. He led numerous car-bomb blasts, beheadings of foreigners, and explosions near Shiite mosques. He was eventually killed in a U.S. air strike in 2006.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Ahmad Fadeel al-Nazal al-Khalayleh

Died At Age: 39


father: Fadel Nazzal Al-Khalayleh

mother: Omm Sayel

Born Country: Jordan

Terrorists Male Criminals

Died on: June 7, 2006

place of death: Hibhib, Iraq

Childhood & Early Life

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was born Ahmad Fadeel (or Fadil) al-Nazal al-Khalayleh (or al-Khalaylah), on October 30, 1966, in Al-Zarqa, about 16 miles northeast of Amman, Jordan.

Though he is often thought of as a Palestinian, he belonged to the Khalaylah clan, a branch of the Bedouin tribe of Bani Hassan from the East Bank, who are followers of Jordan’s Hashemite royal family.

Zarqawi’s father was a local tribal leader who had previously worked as an army officer. After Zarqawi’s father’s death in 1984, his mother raised her children on a meagre pension. Zarqawi grew up with six sisters and three brothers.

At 17, he dropped out of school and got addicted to alcohol and drugs. He was sent to prison for sexual assault and drug possession.

He soon made his way to a Palestinian refugee camp, where he met Salafist preachers. He quit alcohol and drugs. He also secured a clerical job in the town municipality and got married to a maternal cousin.

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Life as a Jihadist

In 1989, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi abandoned his family and went to Afghanistan. By then, the Soviet troops had withdrawn from the country. Hoping to witness the first Sunni Islamist state, he was disappointed with the lack of any strong leadership in the country for the next 3 years. During this time, he worked as a correspondent for a radical Islamist magazine.

By 1991, he had moved to Peshawar, Pakistan. There, Zarqawi met Muhammad al-Maqdisi (or Issam al-Barqawi), a radical Salafist thinker. Along with him, Zarqawi formed a network named Bayat al-Imam, aimed at organizing Jordanian Afghan veterans.

Kabul fell in 1992, as rival Mujahideen fighters “liberated” Afghanistan only to fight amongst each other. Zarqawi and Maqdisi went back to Jordan to organize a jihad.

Zarqawi condemned the government. In March 1994, his home was raided by security agencies, who discovered arms and arrested him.

Zarqawi was charged with being a member of an illegal organization and possessing weapons. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with hard labor. He and Maqdisi were both sent to Suwaqa prison.

Maqdisi soon became a leader of sorts in the prison, with Zarqawi becoming his aide. Later, however, the prisoners began to view Zarqawi as a leader, due to his military experience.

As a leader, Zarqawi imposed certain rules. He asked the prisoners to wear Afghan-style robes, grow their beards, cut their hair short, and use black head covers. They were only allowed to watch news on TV, could only read pre-approved books, and were not allowed to interact with non-Islamist inmates or speak to each other without his permission.

In May 1999, after King Abdullah II came to power, Zarqawi was released from prison due to an amnesty. However, the Jordanian intelligence agencies did not let Zarqawi and the other released Islamist detainees apply for jobs or start their businesses.

Later, Zarqawi went back to Peshawar. He took his cancer-stricken mother along with him, hoping that the climate in Pakistan would help her beat leukemia. However, his visa expired after 6 months later, and he was arrested and asked to leave the country. His mother went back to Jordan, but Zarqawi went to Afghanistan.

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Soon, Zarqawi met Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders in Kandahar. He requested them to help him form a terror network to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy.

By the end of 2000, Zarqawi had formed his own training camp close to Herat in Western Afghanistan. The camp mostly catered to exiled Jordanian, Syrian, and Palestinian Islamists in Europe.

Soon, his network grew, and his focus shifted from ousting the Jordanian monarchy to plotting against Israel and Jewish targets in Europe.

Zarqawi’s network later came to be known as Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (“Monotheism and Holy War”) and was still related to the al-Qaeda. However, it was an autonomous body.

Zarqawi chose Herat as his base, as the place let him avoid Pakistani way stations used by the al-Qaeda and instead make his own sophisticated “underground railroad” to help his men travel between Europe and Afghanistan through Mashhad.

After 9/11, he and his men in Afghanistan crossed into Iran. However, in February 2002, three Tawhid bombers who were out on a terror mission against Israel were arrested while crossing into Turkey from Iran. Western intelligence agencies soon came to know about Zarqawi’s presence in the Islamic Republic. They pressurized Iran to oust Zarqawi. Matters worsened in April, when eight Tawhid members were arrested in Germany.

Soon, Zarqawi relocated to a remote area in northern Iraq, under the control of a Kurdish Islamist group, Ansar al-Islam. Zarqawi joined hands with the Arab Islamists stationed there.

He was sure Saddam Hussein would be ousted by Americans. Thus, he spent time in Baghdad and joined hands with the Sunni triangle of Iraq, to form local support networks. Since Iran was not safe for Tawhid operatives anymore, Zarqawi went to Syria to think of an alternate route.

During or just before the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Zarqawi went back to Iran, where he met Osama bin Laden’s military chief, Muhammad Ibrahim Makawi (Saif al-Adel). Makawi asked him to help the al-Qaeda enter Iraq through the Syrian route, and Zarqawi agreed.

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Zarqawi’s Terrorism in Iraq

Soon, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi became the “emir” of Islamist terrorists in Iraq. His terror strategy in Iraq had four aims. First, he wanted international forces to withdraw their support to America’s plan of transforming Iraq. In August 2003, he orchestrated the truck bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, which made the UN withdraw from Iraq. His other targets were the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad (August 2003) and Italy’s paramilitary police headquarters in Nasiriyah.

His second aim was to prevent Iraqis from supporting the America-led transition of the country. Zarqawi’s men were responsible for many car-bomb attacks at police stations, thus killing hundreds, including several important Iraqi politicians.

His third aim was to stop Iraq’s reconstruction, by kidnapping and beheading civilian contractors, aid workers, and other foreign workers in Iraq. He also circulated gory videos of their executions all over the internet. His group made headlines with the execution of Nicholas Berg and was responsible for at least 10 more murders.

His fourth aim was to carry out car-bomb attacks outside Shiite mosques (such as the Hamid al-Najar mosque in Baghdad), thus killing countless civilians. This was done to start a sectarian conflict.

While Zarqawi’s strategies were appreciated by many radical Sunni Islamists, the Arab world later became sceptical of his ways and means. Zarqawi’s brutal ways had reduced international support for his cause. The Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq also condemned the beheading of foreigners by Zarqawi.


Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. air strike on June 7, 2006, while he was in a meeting in a remote safehouse located about 8 km north of Baqubah.

Two U.S. Air Force F-16C jets located the house. One of the jets dropped two 500-pound bombs, a GPS-guided GBU-38, and a laser-guided GBU-12 on the building. Apart from Zarqawi, six other people, including his teenage wife, Isra, and his child, were also killed in the attack. Zarqawi had three more wives.

Some reports stated that he was alive for a short time after the bombing. The U.S. forces claimed to have tried to revive him.

An autopsy revealed he had died due to an injury to his lungs. It also hinted that he was alive for an hour after the attacks.

Zarqawi's brother-in-law later claimed that he considered him a martyr although the family had been against Zarqawi’s actions after his triple suicide bombing in Amman that had killed over 60 people.

See the events in life of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi in Chronological Order

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