A video nasty: Terror chief shows off his deadly work

By Andrew Buncombe in Washington

06 July 2004

Independent

The deadly efficiency of the foreign-led militants behind a series of terror attacks and assassinations across Iraq became clear yesterday with the release of a chillingly professional promotional video.

The group of militants is led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian blamed by the US for many of the deadliest attacks over the past year, and for wielding the knife that decapitated the American hostage Nick Berg. The video's starkest message to the fledgling government of Iraq is that Zarqawi's men - many of them foreign fighters - are now well organised, embedded inside Iraq, and can strike at a time and method of their choosing.

The sophisticated tape includes scenes such as a suicide bomber heading off on a mission, waving goodbye to his chanting colleagues as he climbs into the cab of a tanker packed with explosives. "I sacrifice myself for my religion," he says before leaving. Moments later the explosion can be heard and a massive ball of fire fills the screen as the suicide bomber reaches his target: an American position under a bridge west of the troubled city of Fallujah.

The video also shows the suicide car bomb attack on 17 May that killed the Iraqi Governing Council leader Izzadine Saleem. The car in which the cameraman is sitting is so close that the windscreen is cracked by the force of the blast. Seven others were killed in the attack.

The release of the tape, produced by the group Attawid wal Jihad (Unity and Jihad), came yesterday as US forces killed at least 10 people in a missile strike on a house in Fallujah. In recent days there have been a series of such strikes on what the US says are "safe houses" used by Zarqawi's network. It was not immediately clear whether the Americans were acting with the agreement of the new "sovereign" Iraqi government.

Allies of the Zarqawi organisation are believed to be holding the abducted US Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun, who has been threatened with beheading. Yesterday he was reported to have been moved to "a place of safety" after he pledged not to return to the American armed forces. The al-Jazeera television station said it had received a statement from a group, calling itself the Islamic Movement. In the statement the group did not say where Cpl Hassoun had been taken, al-Jazeera said.

Al-Jazeera quoted this group on 27 June as saying it had kidnapped Cpl Hassoun and threatened to kill him. On Sunday, a group calling itself the Army of Ansar al-Sunna denied reports on Islamist websites that he had been decapitated.

The tape, complete with graphics and professional-quality editing and camerawork, is the latest raising of the stakes by militants since the return of partial sovereignty to Iraq by the US last week. "This video speaks of a danger more organised than the one viewed through the snippets of the intelligence and glimmers of insight the public [has] previously seen," wrote Michael Ware, the Time magazine reporter who obtained the tape.

"It does not bode well for the immediate future of Iraq's fledgling government, nor the ultimate exit plans for the 130,000 US troops still [in Iraq]."

Mr Ware, who has interviewed a number of insurgents over the last year, said the tape was intended to send a very clear message to coalition troops and foreigners. "We can get you. You cannot stop us."

He also said the video, like a corporate recruitment product, was designed to lure new fighters - and funding - to Zarqawi's network. "It is a very, very sophisticated part of Zarqawi's information campaign, stamping him as the star of the new global jihad inspired by Osama bin Laden," Mr Ware said.

The video suggests that foreign fighters have been able to develop a reasonably sophisticated network inside Iraq. The footage features interviews and statements from Saudis, Algerians, Libyans, Jordanians and fighters from other countries. One bomber claims to have lived in Italy and played hockey for a leading club.

It also appears to confirm the central role played by Zarqawi within the insurgents' community. The voice of the Jordanian-born extremist, currently the most wanted man in Iraq, only appears briefly on the recording and it seems to have been taken from an audio tape he released last month threatening the new Iraqi government.

The footage contains scenes of what appear to be the final days and hours of militants as they ready themselves for suicide missions. Superimposed on scenes of them praying and relaxing are individual shots of the men explaining why they are carrying out the attacks. "How can I live peacefully at a time when the holy and sacred places have been violated, and the country is usurped and the infidels are encroaching on our country and humiliating our religion, which is ... our pride?" asks one bomber as armed, masked men stand behind him. "How can I live, and others live, while our sisters are prisoners of the Americans in Iraq?"

In the tape the group also claims responsibility for an attack in Nasiriyah in November last year in which 18 Italian soldiers were killed, and the truck bombing last summer of the UN headquarters in Iraq, in which the special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello died. There is also footage from an attack on the Mount Lebanon Hotel in March. In that instance the cameraman is standing so close to the scene that the camera crackles as flames roll towards it.

Last week US authorities increased their reward for Zarqawi to $25m (£14m), from $10m. His network is also blamed for the murder of the South Korean contractor Kim Sun Il, who was beheaded last month after being taken hostage.