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$25 million reward for al-Qaeda figure
( 2003-10-30 15:35) (MSNBC)

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, believed by U.S. officials to be the leading al-Qaeda figure operating inside Iraq, has quietly joined the exclusive list of terrorists who has a $25 million reward on his head. He joins only Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and bin Laden¡¯s two deputies, Ayman al Zawahiri and Saif al-Adil, on that elite list.

The five men are on the U.S. government's Rewards for Justice Web site, along with several others whose capture would bring lesser rewards. Most, but not all, of the others are lesser lights in al-Qaeda and other terror groups.

Abu Musab Zarqawi, whose real name is Ahmad Fadhil al-Khalayleh, is from Jordan. This photo was distributed by the Jordanian government last December.
Zarqawi, a 37-year-old Jordanian, was added on Tuesday, said one U.S. official, who spoke to NBC on condition of anonymity. There had not been any reward on his head until that point.

The move suggested Zarqawi is now seen as one of the leading suspects in the wave of bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. ¡°We really want this guy,¡± said the official, adding that the U.S. intelligence community is not certain where he is operating, but that he appears to move frequently between Iraq and Iran.

The size of the reward is five times that of most of those on the Rewards for Justice site, which is managed by the State Department¡¯s Diplomatic Security Service and the FBI.

Two of those with $5 million rewards on their heads, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Imad Mugniyah, are both seen by U.S. intelligence as terrorist masterminds: Mohammed is believed to be the leader of the cell that carried out the East Africa embassy bombings in August, 1998, and Mugniyah the military commander of Hezbollah and responsible for planning the embassy and Marine Barracks bombings in Beirut in April and October of 1983.

Even Saddam¡¯s two sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein, carried only $15 million rewards on their heads.

An Iraqi has been paid $30 million for information that led to the attacks that killed the two and Qusay¡¯s son earlier this year in Mosul.


Zarqawi is believed to be a member of both al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam, U.S. officials said.

¡°It¡¯s like being a member of the Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce,¡± said another U.S. official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. ¡°Being a member of one doesn¡¯t preclude membership in the other.¡±

A longtime follower of bin Laden, Zarqawi was severely wounded in the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan last year and lost a leg. He reportedly received medical attention in Baghdad after escaping from Afghanistan through Iran.

In the wanted poster on the government¡¯s Web site, Zarqawi is described as having had ¡°a long-standing connection to senior al-Qaeda leadership and appears to be highly regarded among al-Qaida and a close associate of Osama bin Laden and Saif al-Adil,¡± the al-Qaida¡¯s military commander.


U.S. intelligence believes the Jordanian planned and helped execute the assassination of Laurence Foley, the U.S. AID official, in Amman last October.

Prior to the Iraq war, Zarqawi gained notoriety when administration officials, including Secretary of State Powell in his U.N. speech on Feb. 5, cited his ability to get medical attention in Baghdad as evidence of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

That belief was not shared by all in the intelligence community, and congressional investigators have subsequently cast doubt on the quality of the information about Iraq gathered by the administration ahead of the war. For example, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in the past six months has hurt the credibility of the government's case at home and abroad.

Zarqawi's network also was reported to have established a poisons and explosives training camp in Kurdish-controlled northwestern Iraq prior to the war.

He was indicted in absentia in Jordan for his role in the 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.

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