A Jordanian Sting Operation Yielded the Vital Lead
The final breakthrough in the long pursuit of the most blood-stained terrorist of them all, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, came about in the third week of May – in Jordan.
There, Jordanian special forces nabbed one of the lowlifes he employed to attack and rob the convoys plying Baghdad’s main supply route across the Jordanian-Iraqi border and murdering their Iraqi or Jordanian drivers. Foreigners riding along were taken hostage.
Ziyad Halaf al Karbouli, also known as Abu Hufeiza, was the leader of the al Qaeda squad plaguing these convoys. DEBKA-Net-Weekly reveals he was the al Qaeda operative picked up – not by chance, but in consequence of a well-laid Jordanian sting operation. It was set up and executed by King Abdullah‘s old unit, The Riders of Justice of Jordan’s 71st Commando Brigade – and on his orders.
Jordanian intelligence had a score to settle with Zarqawi’s highway robber. Last September, he kidnapped a Palestinian called Khaled Da Siko, who was an important Jordanian undercover agent, assigned with penetrating Zarqawi’s following. The abduction took place in Ruthba in western Iraq. When Abu Hufeiza asked Zarqawi what to do with his captive, he was told to execute him forthwith, which he did.
From that moment, Jordanian intelligence never let up on their efforts to lay hands on the kidnapper to exact revenge.
The Riders of Justice infiltrated western Iraq at the beginning of 2006 and scoured al Qaim, Ruthba, Falujja and Ramadi for the wanted man. At some point, they realized that even if they overpowered his bodyguards and killed him, they would never make it back to Jordan past Zarqawi’s killers.
In early April therefore, a decision was taken in Amman to lure Abu Hufeiza into braving Zarqawi’s prohibition and venturing into Jordan. Double agents held out an offer of a base for al Qaeda in the kingdom, plus information on ways to lay hands on the hundreds of millions of dollars flowing through the funding channel between Jordan and Iraq.
Abu Hufeiza swallowed the bait. He was so dazzled that he pictured himself handing the rich booty over to Abu Zarqawi and being promoted to his Number Two in al Qaeda’s Iraq hierarchy by his grateful master.
Zarqawi’s henchman sings
The moment he set foot on Jordanian soil with his bodyguards, all got up as Iraqi businessmen on a shopping trip, the trap snapped shut; they were surrounded by the Riders of Justice and taken to the capital for questioning.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources report that Abu Hufeiza held nothing back from his Jordanian interrogators. He was the source of the first real lead to Zarqawi’s location to reach the US command and intelligence service in Iraq.
Abu Hufeiza also gave away certain members of the Butcher of Baghdad’s command group.Here is a summary of the data the Jordanians extracted from him:
The name of al Qaeda chief’s chief of operations, Yassin Harabi – an Iraqi Sunni codenamed Abu Obeida. Then going down the chain of command Yunas Ramlawi, a Palestinian from the West Bank town of Ramallah, and Muhammad Majid, a Saudi Arabian known as Abu Hamza.
He gave the Jordanians descriptions of these senior terror operatives which were good enough for identikit portraits and betrayed their hideouts, how they stayed in touch with Zarqawi and their movements.
He also parted with a detailed list of many junior commanders.
This data haul Jordanian intelligence whipped across to Washington where analysts went to work on it and rushed their findings to American headquarters in Baghdad.
All of a sudden, the US military in Baghdad had an intelligence bonanza instead of chance identities of the odd Zarqawi adherent which was all they had to work with before. From Abu Hufeiza Jordanian intelligence had extracted the first clue to the location of the safe house near Baquba, where Zarqawi was actually in conference with his senior commanders.
The next link in the chain came from a senior Zarqawi commander in Iraq, who fell into American hands and was persuaded to part with the final steps to the targeted address.
Jordan and the captured terrorist were not the only source of the leads that brought US 500-pound bombs down on Zarqawi’s final location; DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources add that the US command was surprised by the fountain of data that gushed in the two weeks leading up to the air strike from Iraqi Sunni insurgents thought to be al Qaeda’s close collaborators.
At first, the American officers treated the offerings as disinformation designed to trip them up. But when US commander General George W. Casey and American ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad ordered it examined, the information proved solid.
All that needed to be done was to cross-reference the intelligence data incoming from Jordan, the al Qaeda prisoner and the Iraqi Sunnis – and bull’s eye, Zarqawi’s location was pinpointed.
But questions remained: What caused the Sunni informers to turn on Zarqawi and give him away to his American hunters? Did the betrayal come from inside al Qaeda?
Some answers to these questions appear in the next article in this issue.