By Richard Sale
Perhaps the most important element of the tracking down and killing of terrorist mastermind Abu Musah al-Zarqawi rests on the fact that the key intelligence came from an Iraqi source, according to serving U.S. intelligence officials.
The informant Ziyad Halaf al-Karbouli, also known as Abu Hufeiza, was captured last month by a Jordanian unit called the “Riders of Justice,” part of Jordan’s 71st Commando Brigade, in a operation personally overseen by King Abdullah, according to U.S. intelligence sources.
Karbouli was responsible for the abduction and murder last September of Khaled Da Siko, a Palestinian, who was an important Jordanian undercover agent tasked with penetrating Zarqawi’s group. Da Siko was killed by Karbouli on the orders of Zarqawi after being kidnapped last September from Ruthba in western Iraq, U.S. officials said.
The Jordanian ploy to snare Zarqawi involved offering Zarqawi a base in Jordan for his operations that included millions of dollars in financial support, U.S. officials said.
Karbouli fell for the bait, but only after Jordanian intelligence made use of growing disillusionment on the part of two of Zarqawi’s own tribesmen, who met in December with Jordanian intelligence officials. The tribesman, from the Bani Hassan tribe, were disgusted by Zarqawi’s vicious attacks on hotels in Jordan, according to Middle East analyst Adel Darwish, (a friend of mine) and confirmed by U.S. intelligence officials.
The tribal members were told that the old tribal code of honor that forbids informing on another member was no longer valid after Zarqawi’s heartless actions. Jordanian intelligence then discovered that other tribal leaders were tired of Zarqawi’s bloodthirstiness and weary of being pressured for information by Jordanian spooks.
In the meantime, Jordanian intelligence, which has U.S. military advisors, had cast a very wide net, working through what former East German Stasi chief Marcus Wolfe called “chains of contacts.”
A former U.S. operative said that Jordanian intelligence began extensive police work in an attempt to identify, entrap, compromise and persuade people who knew Zarqawi or friends of his to cooperate in tracking the master. A number of people were contacted and taken to the Ministry of Interior’s special prison building in downtown Amman which the locals call “Government Free Hotel” or “The Fingernail Factory” for what were termed “earnest, comprehensive discussions of common interest,” in the words of a former U.S. official.
Lt. Gen. Tahsin Sherdom, until recently Jordan’s Director of Public Safety and part of the “Circassian Mafia” which prevails in the Jordanian military and security services, had a direct interest in these interrogations, former U.S. officials said.
The Iraqi collaborators were encouraged by Amman to reach out to likeminded companions, and one of these fingered al-Karbouli, who was then captured and questioned. It was then that Karbouli fingered Sheikh Abd al-Rahman, the spiritual advisor of Zarqawi, and U.S. Special Forces, who had been working with the Jordanians, began their surveillance, which included the assignment of two Predators drones plus intercepts of al-Rahman’s satellite phone.
It was by means of informants and technical surveillance that the United States trailed al-Rahman to his meeting with Zarqawi. The air strike on the safe house was targeted by laser beams directed on the site by U.S. Special Forces.
The big question now for U.S. and Jordanian intelligence operatives is whether the tribesmen and Karbouli will be followed by other Sunni and Iraqi defectors from the insurgency. If that happens, Zarqawi’s death could actually prove to be a key turning point, as so many, for the wrong reasons, have said that it is.