Nov. 21, 2005 issue - In Washington, D.C., last week, intelligence officials at a brainstorming session debated whether Al Qaeda's top commander had gotten his hands on nuclear materials. In Dublin, U.S. investigators met with counterparts to look into a financier allegedly funneling money to the Qaeda boss. In Amman, Jordan, as three American-owned hotels mopped blood off their floors and hospitals tallied 57 dead from the country's worst terrorist outrage, no one doubted who was to blame: the same Qaeda bigwig. It wasn't Osama bin Laden who had everyone's attention. It was the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi...
.... European security officials have become increasingly worried that, given his increased stature in the Middle East, Zarqawi might begin to shift his focus to the so-called far enemy as well.
Last month, four Zarqawi acolytes were convicted in Duesseldorf of plotting attacks against Jewish targets in Germany in 2002. Testimony showed that some of them were in regular phone contact with Zarqawi and raised money on his behalf.
The presiding judge, Ottmar Breidling, said there was no doubt who was behind the plots. "Abu Musab Zarqawi should also be sitting on the defendants' bench," he said in court.
Zarqawi has been sentenced in absentia to death for other terrorism plots in Jordan.
Some European intelligence officials said they fear that Zarqawi is becoming a galvanizing figure for Islamic radicals and could eventually take the place of bin Laden as the symbolic head of the movement.
August Hanning, president of Germany's foreign intelligence service, said there were signs of increased numbers of Islamic extremists going to Iraq from Europe to fight for Zarqawi, not because his network had recruited them directly, but merely because his success inspired them to join.
"He functions as a role model. There are groups that believe it is a great honor to be able to carry out attacks in his name," Hanning said at the Berlin conference Thursday. "We have seen how numerous groups, who -- on their own initiative -- have tried to make contact with Zarqawi to work together." ...
Readers of the Shadowland columns will find all of this familiar territory:
For Islamic Militants in Europe, Iraq far outshines Afghanistan as an urban-terrorism training ground. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7169294/site/newsweek/
Cover story: Unmasking the Insurgents, 30 Jan 2005
Shadow war: The elections won't stop the bombers, but quality intel -- and luck -- might help. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6885867/site/newsweek/
With just a small support base, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi used the Web to build himself up into a mythical jihadist. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6289451/site/newsweek/
The threat of an Al Qaeda attack there is real—and growing.
Shadowland: The Iraqi Horror Picture Show, 12 May 2004
Managing information and uncovering facts are two very different things.
Newsweek: Has the War Made Us Safer?, 3 April 2004
Iraq has become a savage battleground -- part of the world's first global insurgency. Time is running short to fix that. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4661300/
Shadowland: A (Terrorist's) Letter from Iraq, 17 Feb 2004
The so-called Zarqawi memo may or may not be genuine, but it's a revealing picture of Iraq right now. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4253025/