June 13, 2006 | More from Nahlah Ayed
Nahlah Ayed is CBC Television's new correspondent in Beirut. She joined in Nov. 2002, and moved to Jordan, then immediately to Iraq, for the lead-up to the war. She covered the fall of Baghdad, and made the overland trip back several times over the next year to cover the war's aftermath for both TV and radio. Nahlah is an award-winning former parliamentary correspondent for The Canadian Press who also covered the war in Afghanistan.
A day after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed, the al-Arabiya satellite channel aired exclusive footage of a wedding in November that he had helped ruin.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is seen in these undated photos; the photo at left released in Amman, Jordan, Dec. 14, 2002, the photo at right released by the Department of State, September 2004. (Associated Press)
The bride was smiling shyly, her hand resting on her husband's arm. As they inched their way into the wedding hall in Amman, Jordan, family members were happily clapping, singing and dancing in front of them. It seemed a typical Middle Eastern wedding.
But what followed was anything but normal.
One of three suicide bombers linked to al-Zarqawi entered the wedding hall and, without warning, detonated his explosives among the guests. The bride lost both her mother and father. The groom lost his father. What should have been Nadia Alami and Ashraf Akhrass's happiest day, became their darkest.
Pictures of the aftermath in the report once again brought home the senselessness of the attack, reminding viewers of al-Zarqawi's recent, bloody history.
But no one in Jordan needed reminding of what happened Nov. 9, 2005, when the triple suicide attack left 63 people dead, dozens wounded and the normally stable kingdom of Jordan uncharacteristically anxious.
There's no question that it was a turning point. Al-Zarqawi, who hails from the Jordanian city of Zarqa — taking his nom de guerre from it — had many supporters here. Many cheered on his fight against U.S. forces in Iraq.
But his claim of responsibility for the attack in Jordan left many with a change of heart. Even members of his own family and his tribe publicly disowned him.
Muslims killing Muslims
The Jordanian communtiy of Zarqua, located north of the capital Amman, was the hometown of slain al-Qaeda leader Abu Musav al-Zarqawi. (Mahmud Shawkat/AFP/Getty Images)
However, there were many in Jordan, long before those bombings, who like others around the world could not abide what al-Zarqawi was doing in Iraq.
In Islam, killing an innocent is forbidden. Killing another Muslim is even worse — a heresy. Al-Zarqawi has reportedly been blamed for killing more Muslims — and innocents — than foreign forces in Iraq. A Sunni Muslim, al-Zarqawi often targeted Shia Muslims, whom he called unbelievers. But they are Muslims nonetheless, and in the region many were unequivocal in condemning his deeds, even in his hometown.
"A Muslim who kills a Muslim will go to hell," said Muhammed Hussein, the keeper of a tiny mosque where al-Zarqawi was apparently first introduced to conservative ideas. What about one who killed hundreds every day?"
Ironically, the industrial city that Zarqawi grew up in is home to a unique mixture of religions, classes and cultures, and has a history of tolerance. In Zarqa, Christians, Muslims — religious and otherwise — Chechens, Circasians, Palestinians, farmers and Bedouins, live in relative harmony.
His tribe, the Bani Hassan, is said to include descendants of the Prophet Muhammed and is historically known for being peaceful, rarely engaging in tribal warfare or in the wanton aggression other tribes used to be known for.
True, some neighbourhoods in Zarqa are known for being tough. One of them, dubbed the "Chicago of Jordan," is known for its knife-wielding gangs and troublemaking youth — the kind of teenagers that al-Zarqawi apparently hung out with as he grew up.
A vast, dusty cemetery is the favourite gathering place for many of these youth, including al-Zarqawi himself back in the days when he drank, marked himself with tattoos and regularly got into fights.
Many theories about al-Zarqawi
Though al-Zarqawi still has supporters there, many maintain he's not a product of his city. And they're struggling to understand just what drove him to do all that he has done.
There are many theories.
Mekhled al-Zoyoud, a theatre director from Zarqa, is a proud member of the Bani Hassan tribe. He condemns all that al-Zarqawi stood for. But he blames the U.S. for creating him, and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for playing a role as well.
"When al-Zarqawi left here, where did he go? To Afghanistan," al-Zoyoud said, standing amid his olive and apricot trees on the outskirts of Zarqa. The U.S. supported Muslim fighters in Afghanistan, he explained, in the war against communism. "In short, they produced them, and they should take responsibility for them now."
Al-Zoyoud also blamed constant disappointment in Arab and Muslim political fortunes for the rise in Islamists like al-Zarqawi, and their popularity.
Others in the relatively underprivileged city of a million inhabitants blamed poverty.
"When you're poor, you can be easily pulled in one direction," said Ahmed Abdullah, a convenience store owner who operates just a few blocks from where al-Zarqawi was born. "The poor man wants any way to condemn the society that he lives in."
Abdullah says it was inevitable that al-Zarqawi would eventually be killed.
"It has to be like this. He chose that life," he said.
Many in Jordan would now agree — including, unsurprisingly, Alami, the bride in that disturbing video.
"I am happy from the bottom of my heart," she told AFP after news of al-Zarqawi's death. "He got what he deserved."