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The Hostage Killers Speak.

"I am responsible for the beheading of American agent Nicolas Berg, the Korean Kim Sun-il and the Iraqi spies in American pay." The man facing me in his white dishdasha is thirty years old, with a short black beard and a closed countenance.

Seeing my consternation at the evocation of these feats of war, Abu Rashid begins to laugh: "Look at the disc I gave you of Berg's decapitation twice in a row and you'll see, you'll get used to it, "he counsels before inviting me to be present for the next one... My interpreter and I are in Fallujah, the first "liberated" Iraqi territory, where American soldiers no longer enter. Here, a recent fatwa authorizes residents to kill foreign journalists without any sort of trial. The al-Jolan suburb is represented as the general headquarters for those "foreign fighters" - the non-Iraqi Arabs who have come to participate in the fight against the Americans - who today would give Iraq over to blood and fire. It's 5 PM and, in the little living room of this house spared by the American bombings that began again a few days ago, about fifteen leaders of the more extreme wing of the mujahadeen listen with respect as their leader claims credit in front of a foreign woman for the executions that have traumatized the whole world.

Contacts struck up since the siege of Fallujah had allowed me the chance for this meeting with Abu Rashid (1), the leader of the local mujahadeen assembly. Getting across the city alone said enough about the power of the emir who was to receive us at his home. All we needed was to be accompanied by one of his lieutenants: all the fighters at the checkpoints that checker the neighborhoods lowered their eyes without asking any questions and greeted the one who represented Iraq's new "Wahabite Emirate's" strongman respectfully.

Abu Rashid, however, is much more than the first among the mujahadeen in a town whose name freezes American blood. In front of the Falluja war leaders, the man his men have dubbed "the man of steel" presents himself unmistakably as a Tawid wal Djihad (Unification and Holy war) emir. This is the movement the Americans link to Abu Moussab al-Zarkaoui and the al-Qaeda network...

While Abu Rashid explains his "duty to kill", I remember American hostage Nick Berg's animal cries while he was in his death throes, while his executioners laboriously persisted over his curled up body: "You know, when we behead someone, we enjoy it," one of the men seated to the emir's right, insisted on letting us know in English. A murmur of disapproval arose. The atmosphere froze. Abu Rashid put his hand on the man's shoulder and told him to be quiet. In front of us, he prefers to call to mind Safia Bint al-Mutailib, the heroine of Islam, who, during the battle of Mecca against the Jews, cut off the head of one of the men who came to attack her.

"We don't kidnap to frighten those we are holding," he corrects, "but to put pressure on the countries that help or are preparing to help the Americans. What are they thinking; coming to an occupied country? They come to terms with the United States in the name of their business interests, but their contracts are stained with the blood of Iraqis. Should we just sit there while we're being murdered? It's not a good thing to behead, but it's a method that works.

In combat, the Americans tremble. And look at the correct response from the Philippines. Thanks to their attitude that allowed us to free our hostage, we've been able to show the world that we love peace and mercy too... Moreover, I tried to negotiate an exchange of prisoners for Nick Berg, but the Americans rejected me. They're the ones who are really responsible for his death."

A former member of the guard close to Saddam Hussein, Abu Rashid abhors the former dictator, who threw him into prison because he belonged to an Islamist party. When he got out, Abu Rashid tried to get to Afghanistan to fight against the Americans. The Taliban rout surprised him at the Iranian frontier. However, he learned some lessons from the history of the Muslim fighters in Afghanistan: "We understood that division would be our undoing. That's why we created this mujahadeen council."

Inside the council of thirteen fighters' leaders, tasks are divided between the different groups. Some are responsible for enemy surveillance, others for logistical support.

Some cut American lines, fire on convoys. Others are in charge of the kidnappings. The leader gets an additional task: executing the bad fighters who use their weapons to terrorize and rob the Fallujah population.

To hear Abu Rashid tell it, it was the end of the siege of Fallujah on April 29, 2004 that federated all the little groups of fighters in what has become the capital of the resistance against the "American invader." "Since the siege, for the Muslim community, the hatred the Americans expressed towards Fallujah has become the symbol of their hatred of Islam," summarizes the Salafist [member of an extremist Islamic sect related to Wahabism]. Since then, kidnapping negotiations are centralized and attacks throughout the country organized here. The next objective is to intensify simultaneous attacks "to show our unity and our strength."

Two fighter group leaders, one from Hoseiba, on the Syrian border, the other from Haditha, 250 kilometers west of Baghdad, arrive in the room just then. They embrace the emir with respect, banging their shoulders together Bedouin style.

And so a "work conference" is convened.

Nothing exasperates the Salafist Iraqi Mujahadeen more than asking them whether foreign fighters, those they call "the Arabs" have taken over control of the struggle. "It's an American lie," Abu Rashid answers us, in scathing tones. "It's us, the Iraqis, who command in our city and who plan the resistance throughout the country. The "Arab" fighters have come to help us. Fallujah has become a symbol for all Muslims, the starting point for the Re-conquest. So, yes, we welcome them, why not? The Americans have allies too."

-Yet, in the DVD of Tawid wal Djihad (Unification and Holy War) operations you dispatched to several journalists including me a few weeks ago in Baghdad, most of the filmed suicide attacks were executed by these "foreign fighters"...

-"Yes, because to become a shahid, is the act of supreme faith. The Iraqis have not yet reached this degree of fervor, but little by little they are beginning to imitate their "Arab" brothers"... The emir is sorry to acknowledge that the Arab auxiliaries still have lessons in faith to teach his compatriots...

-And Abu Moussab al-Zarkaoui, bin Laden's Jordanian lieutenant, is he the one who plans the attacks, as the Americans believe?

-"In Fallujah, there's no Zarkaoui. Elsewhere? I don't want to lie to you, so I'll answer that he is perhaps somewhere in Iraq. But what's most important is that today in Fallujah, we're all Zarkaouis. And that all Iraqis are bin Laden."

-And when will you stop fighting?

-"When the occupation is over and Islamic law established in Iraq. Until then, no Muslim country in the world will be at peace."

Before seeing us out, Abu Rashid insisted on solemnly giving us a message for Jacques Chirac and George Bush (see below). He leaves us with a well-intended warning: "Don't do anything in this city without getting my authorization in advance."

Ahmed is not part of the Unification and Holy War group, but he sometimes helps Zarkaoui's group out with logistics, like the day in January 2004 when he went to pick up the body of one of the Saudi "martyrs" who had just exploded himself at the Khaldiya bridge. He envies those who have the courage to become "martyrs". "Me too, when I run out of weapons, I'll go blow myself up," he asserts.

(1) The names of the mudjahidin have been changed

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The Message for Jacques Chirac and George Bush

During his interview with our special envoy, Abu Rashid dictated a message to her for the French and American presidents as well as the United Nations. The text of it follows:

"Remind your President Jacques Chirac and George Bush - and write down every word: we will kidnap all the citizens of countries allied to the United States and the impious government of Iyad Allaoui. We will cut the heads off citizens of nations who refuse to reconsider their support for our enemies. Those who assist our enemies become our enemy. The Vietnamese also cut off heads during their war with the United States. You will no longer be able to say we didn't warn you. This message is addressed to the UN and to all nations that consider sending an army for peace-keeping operations in Iraq."

Sara Daniel

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About Sara Daniel

Portrait of Sara Daniel
Sara Daniel, a French journalist, war correspondent, expert on the Middle East.
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