London: British troops came close to capturing al Qaeda's top commander
in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but the operation collapsed after the only surveillance helicopter ordered to monitor him ran out of fuel and had to return to base, secret Iraqi military intelligence logs suggest.
The astonishing blunder in March 2005 allowed al-Zarqawi – a Jordanian associate of Osama bin Laden with a USD 25 million reward on his head – an extra 15 months to expand al Qaeda's operations throughout Iraq, bringing the country close to civil war.
His fundamentalist Sunni supporters were behind some of the worst atrocities aimed at Iraq's Shia majority population as well as countless attacks on US and Iraqi government forces.
He was eventually located by the Americans in a house north of Baghdad in June 2006 and killed with his family by a US air strike.
His narrow escape from British troops and a unit of British special forces emerges from the secret military intelligence logs examined by the Guardian.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi became friends with bin Laden when they were both resisting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the late 1980s.
Arrested in his native Jordan in 1992, Zarqawi was convicted of trying to overthrow the monarchy and establish an Islamic caliphate. On release from a five-year prison term, he went back to political insurgency, setting up his own movement called al-Tawhid wal Jihad.
After the US-led invasion of Iraq he aligned himself with al Qaeda and was recognised as its leader in Iraq with the title "emir of al Qaeda in the country of two rivers".
First Published: Sunday, October 24, 2010, 16:05