Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab Zarqawi has set up a dangerous, “professional operation” in Iraq that will likely be active long after other insurgent groups are defeated, the former U.S. administrator in Iraq said in an interview published on Friday.
Paul Bremer told the Washington Times that members of Zarqawi’s network were mostly trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and arrived in Iraq “not as undisciplined jihadists, but as professionally trained killers.”
The network is “in the low hundreds in Iraq, if that many” Bremer was quoted as saying. He described them as non-Iraqis from Yemen, Sudan and some from Saudi Arabia.
Bremer said the United States gained some insight into the organization after some of its members were captured.
“It’s a very professional operation. Very dangerous,” he told the newspaper.
In describing how well organized the group is in Iraq, Bremer said it deployed a Yemeni suicide bomber to blow up a police station just 48 hours after the man entered the country.
“It showed a very high degree of organization that you could have a guy come across the border and within two days marry him up with a rather elaborate plot. Targets. A thousand-pound bomb built into his car. He has the car. He knows the target. It’s quite impressive,” Bremer said in the interview.
In the December incident, the Yemenite was shot and captured after his bomb failed to explode, The Washington Times said.
Zarqawi cells are so hard to penetrate that he will likely be active and trying to kill people in Iraq well after coalition forces have defeated other militant groups, Bremer told the newspaper.
The United States raised a reward offer for the capture of Zarqawi, its top guerrilla target in Iraq, to $25 million from $10 million, the State Department said on Wednesday.
Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for the beheadings of an American and a South Korean hostage and has threatened to assassinate Iraq’s interim prime minister.
Zarqawi’s group has also claimed responsibility for attacks in Iraq last month in which more than 100 people were killed.
“He is actively involved in selecting targets,” Bremer told the Washington Times. “He’s quite careful with his operational security. Sooner or later, he’ll make a mistake and we’ll get him.”
Bremer was interviewed on the same day that U.S. forces conducted the fourth strike targeting suspected Zarqawi hide-outs in Falluja in the past two weeks.