11/12/2004

A Terrorist story: Abu Ghraib made me do it

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | 'The only place I am going from here is heaven': "From inside a room in one of Falluja's safe houses came a beautiful voice reciting verses from the Qur'an and choking with tears. 'If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your tribe, your fortunes and your trade are more dear to your hearts than God, his prophet and the jihad in the name of God,' chanted the voice, 'be fearful of God then, he will never talk to the wrongdoers.'

The room was half-lit, the walls were bare except for one picture of Mecca. The only piece of furniture was a prayer mat in the middle of room twisted at an angle to face the south. A Kalashnikov rifle and an ammunition pouch were laid against the wall."

The man - tall, thin with a dark complexion, black eyes and a thin beard - arrived in Falluja six weeks ago.. He was with a group of the Tawhid and Jihad stationed in the west of Falluja in the Jolan district where heavy fighting has been raging for the last two days

Anxiously waiting for the Americans outside a makeshift bunker, he told his story. He said he was not here because he loved death as death but because he perceived martyrdom as the most pure way in which to worship God.

He was, he said, a Yemeni religious student from the the capital San'a, who had been studying sharia law for six years, while working as minibus driver to support a pregnant wife and five children.

He first tried to come to Iraq to fight the Americans during the war 18 months ago. But .. he was prevented from going any further by the airport police... For a year he went back to his studies and his family, forgetting Iraq and jihad. But the scandal of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib woke him up, he said.

His wife, a religious student working on her masters thesis, urged him to leave everything and go for jihad in Iraq. She told me they are doing this to the men, imagine what is happening to the women now. Imagine your sisters and me being raped by the infidel.. He suddenly realised his mistake, he said, and spent the night crying.

The next day he borrowed money for another journey.. My favourite daughter came and sat in my lap and slept there. She opened her eyes and said, 'Daddy, I love you'." Weeping as he spoke, he said: "You know these memories are the work of the devil trying to soften my heart and bring me back home. The only place I am going from here is heaven."

One night he was taken to a village on the Syrian side of the border in the north. "They came and said we are crossing today. It was a very scary journey. We had to lie still in the desert if we heard American helicopters. We spent two nights on the border in a village, then we were taken to another village to be given military training. Most of the brothers with me have never used a weapon in their life. "I knew how to use an AK-47. After a few days they came and said we need fighters to go to Hit" - a town north-west of Baghdad.

There he joined a minibus filled with Arab fighters, driving through the night. They were escorted by two cars, he said, including a police car. He produced his Qur'an from his pocket. "When I was in Syria, I bought seven copies of this, wrote the name of my wife and my five children on each and left the seventh empty - I didn't impose a name for the newborn on my wife. She called me later when I was preparing to cross and told me she has written on it 'shahid' - martyr.

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