Last week in a session of intelligence officials debate in Washington the question was whether Al Qaedaâ€™s top man managed to lay his hands on nuclear materials. In Dublin, U.S. and Irish investigators were looking into a financier who was funneling money to the Al Qaeda boss, while at the same time in Amman, Jordan, three American owned hotels mopped blood off their floors and hospitals counted 57 dead from the countryâ€™s worst terrorist attack. No one doubted who was to blame, it wasnâ€™t Osama bin Laden, but the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mussab Al Zarqawi.
Afghanistan used to be the place to go for terrorist training, funding and practical experience in battle. Not anymore. Iraq has become â€œthe center-frontâ€ compared with distant Afghanistan, Iraq has more weapons, more people, more money and a far better position in the heart of the Middle-East.
If Afghanistan under the Taliban was a â€œbackwoods schoolâ€ for terrorism, Iraq is an â€œurban universityâ€. Bin Laden and Zawahiri remain in the leadershipâ€™s safe haven in Afghanistan, â€œbut the real fierce encounters take place in Iraq, and that is where they recruit and dispatch fighters and where Jihadâ€™s spirit thrivesâ€ according to Abu Zabihullah a senior Taliban official.
The suicide bombers Zarqawi sent to slaughter hotel guests and wedding parties in Amman on November 9th were all Iraqis, but Zarqawi is also suspected by European officials of running cells in Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands, as well as an underground railroad between Iraq
U.S. officials believe his network is trying to recruit in the U.S. and officials are increasingly worried that a global underground of financiers that once served Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is now aiding the Iraqi insurgency.
French investigators also worry that 10 of their fellow citizens killed or captured while fighting in Iraq may be just the beginning of a wave, â€œIraq is a great black hole that is sucking all the radical elements in Europeâ€ said a French anti-terrorist Judge, but even more worrying is radicals are already returning home with more knowledge and training.
So far Zarqawiâ€™s extensions into Europe have been as unsuccessful as his early operations in Jordan,(missiles shot at U.S. Navy ships in Aqaba, and the murder of a U.S. AID official where the killers were quickly apprehended). According to many intelligence experts : â€œIraq has been a â€œnet importerâ€ of terrorists, but is on its way to becoming â€œnet exporterâ€ of the same.