Zarqawi Is Using Hostages to Ransom Old Friends, Drs Germ and Anthrax

The dreadful moment – 2:44 am Iraqi time on Tuesday September 20 – when the Jordanian terrorist Musab al-Zarqawi applied a knife to the 53-year old American construction worker, Eugene Armstrong, from Hillsdale, Michigan, was meticulously recorded on one of al Qaeda’s unspeakable videotapes for broadcast. US sound experts who checked the tape identified the voice reading the short statement before the “execution” as belonging to the masked man who dictated the terms for freeing all three hostages on the tape released soon after their capture, namely Zarqawi in person. The two remaining hostages, the American Jack Hensley and British Kenneth Bigley, now face the same dread fate as Armstrong within 24 hours unless Iraqi women prisoners are released from Baghdad jails.
In the White House and 10 Downing Street, president George W. Bush nor prime minister Tony Blair are holding firm against surrendering to the demands of al Qaeda’s operations chief in Iraq. But they are quietly questioning why Zarqawi attaches so much importance to securing the release of the only five Iraqi women left in American hands.
debkafile‘s Washington sources say the answer comes in two interrelated parts:
1. Zarqawi is smart enough not to pose wild ransom demands, such as the release of Saddam Hussein or top-flight Iraqi ex-generals like Chemical Ali Majid to buy the lives of hostages, because then, Bush and Blair’s refusal would be fully backed by Western opinion. He is therefore setting the seeming inconsequential price of five Iraqi women. He reckons that if he keeps on snatching hostages and meting out the same barbaric treatment as he did to Eugene Armstrong on a series of videotapes, public pressure will build up and force the two Western leaders to put a stop to the savage slaughter by abandoning their dogged resistance to the hostage-takers’ demands and setting the women free. Such surrender would then be hailed as a major triumph for the al Qaeda terrorist chief and augur a rising scale of increasingly steep demands.
2. The only five Iraqi women held by the Americans are a long way from being inconsequential. They include two senior scientists attached to Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons program: Dr. Rihab Taha, a microbiologist known as Dr. Germ, and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, head of his anthrax project and member of the Baath ruling command council.
Syria handed the two women over to the Americans on April 28, 2003, together with Dr. Taha’s husband, Gen. Amir Muhammed Rashed, director of Iraq’s missile development program – as first revealed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly 107 five days later, on May 2, 2003.
According to debkafile‘s intelligence sources, Zarqawi has been tipped off that one of the two Iraqi scientists is on the point of breaking under questioning and spilling the beans on Saddam’s WMD to her American interrogators. He therefore interceded by seizing the three Western hostages, either to gain her release or scare her into holding silent.
Our sources also believe that Zarqawi has personal acquaintance going back five years with one or both the Iraqi women scientists. A poisons expert himself, the Jordanian terror master frequently passed through Baghdad in the years 1998 and 2002 on his way to the biological and chemical weapons laboratories made available to al Qaeda in the northern Iraqi town of Biyara. He may even have been supplied with equipment, materials and instruction manuals by those very women. The facility was located in an area controlled by Ansar al-Islam which it later transpired was an operational wing of al Qaeda. Zarqawi may be seeking their release so that they can be hired by al Qaeda to continue the biological weapons researches they performed for the deposed Iraqi dictator.
In any case, their loss would put paid once and for all to the Bush administration’s best chance of obtaining evidence to prove Saddam Hussein was running an active banned weapons program. Outside Iraq, the argument over Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction may have ended in favor of the gainsayers; not so on the battlefields against the terrorists.
Early Tuesday, September 21, Zarqawi’s group issued a denial that the two French journalists, Christian Chesnot of Radio France and Georges Malbunot of Le Figaro, abducted a month ago in Iraq, had been bought for cash. Clearly, the al Qaeda terrorist is not after any type of hostage. Our sources report a rumor going round Paris and Baghdad for some weeks that the group holding the two Frenchmen is willing to transfer them on the right terms, i.e a sizeable sum in cash and a Muslim fundamentalist or insurgent purchaser, so as not to appear to compromise its principles for monetary gain. Zarqawi is holding himself aloof from the hostage traffic developing in Iraq into a lucrative business.
This week, the Canadian Halifax Herald carried a unique first person account by Scott Taylor on his capture in the Tal Afar enclave, describing how as a hostage of the Ansar al-Islam he was transported between various safe houses, farms and hideouts before being eventually released beside a highway in the city of Mosul. His most startling experience was being handed over by members of the US-funded, newly constituted Iraqi Police Service to his captors. A police officer at the Tal Afar checkpoint instructed him to climb into a car full of masked gunmen. Only too late, he realized they were not a special police unit but terrorists who later claimed that many of the police in Mosul donate part of their US salaries to anti-US forces.

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