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Friday, May 14, 2004

The Tangled Web of Nicholas Berg, Abu Al-Zarqawi, Zacarias Moussaoui & Chemical Weapons

By J.M. Berger

The tangled webs of terrorist activity often yield unexpected connections, but it was still surprising to see how many links have emerged among Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Zacarias Moussaoui and terrorism's most recent high-profile victim, Nicholas Berg.

Related: Debunking (And Rebunking) The Nick Berg Conspiracy Theory

Related: UK Cleric's Arrest May Be Missing Link Between Moussaoui, Zarqawi and Berg

The story of Berg and his gruesome death took an unexpected turn Thursday, when it was revealed that Berg met Zacarias Moussaoui, an accused al Qaeda operative who may have been connected to the September 11 attacks on America (external link). The date of the meeting is unclear.

What few have yet commented on is the fact that Moussaoui and Zarqawi may be directly linked by common associates and an interest in chemical weapons. Even more disturbing is the possibility that Moussaoui could have belonged to one of Zarqawi's terror cells in London.

Berg was questioned by the FBI after it was discovered that Moussaoui had used his password to access University of Oklahoma computers. Berg attended college at the University; Moussaoui went to flight school in Norman, OK. According to some media reports, the two met on a bus.

The FBI determined that the meeting was innocent, reports said. Berg's family told the press that Berg was a trusting person who had simply loaned the password to Moussaoui.

Although initial reports have not suggested anything more complex than a coincidence, it's worth examining the situation more closely since multiple ongoing investigations suggest Moussaoui may be directly connected to Berg's killer.

Before Moussaoui came to the U.S., where he is suspected of having plotted terrorist attacks on behalf of al Qaeda, he lived in London. While there, he attended the Finsbury Park Mosque, which officials have connected to radical Islamic activities. Richard Reid, the al Qaeda "shoe bomber," attended the same mosque, whose spiritual leader was Sheik Abu Hamza al-Mazri.

According to Newsweek (external link), Hamza headed a London cell of Zarqawi's terror network. Hamza has not been charged, but Scotland Yard is continuing to investigate his activities.

But that's not the only connection. When he was arrested, Moussaoui (a French-born citizen of Moroccan descent) had an address book which listed a phone number for fellow Moroccan Amer el Azizi, according to the Wall Street Journal (external link).

Investigators told the WSJ that Azizi trained at a Zarqawi-run camp in Afghanistan prior to September 11, where he studied chemical weapons — reputedly Zarqawi's specialty.

The chemical links brings the story back full circle to London and Finsbury Park. In January 2003, British police discovered a stockpile of the chemical agent ricin in a London apartment. According to NBC News, the ricin is believed to be connected to the same terrorist camp Azizi attended.

Several days later, scores of policemen descended on Finsbury Park in a raid that found stun guns, tear gas and hundreds of documents. Seven people were arrested.

Moussaoui is also connected to the specter of a chemical attack. According to his indictment, he was in possession of a computer disk "containing information related to the aerial application of pesticides." Other reports indicated that Moussaoui's laptop computer contained information about crop dusters.

According to the indictment, investigators are uncertain what Moussaui was doing on the University of Oklahoma computers, which he apparently accessed using Berg's password.

Moussaoui is currently on trial for plotting attacks against the U.S. Federal officials originally charged that he was intended to be the "20th hijacker," but they have backed off of that claim in recent months.

All these oddities have fueled a torrent of speculation about how Berg, a young Jewish man fron Pennsylvania, would have struck up a friendship with an Islamic terrorist in the U.S. and what he was actually doing in Iraq.

Berg was apparently self-employed and frequently traveled in Iraq without security, according to media reports. Berg told a reporter friend in Baghdad that he had an Israeli stamp on his passport, according to Reuters. AP reported he had been to Israel a few times.

Adding to the mystery around his time in Iraq, Berg told family members he had been detained by U.S. authorities in Iraq shortly before his kidnapping. U.S. authorities have strenuously denied the claim, saying that he was actually held by the Iraqi CPA.

The U.S. has confirmed, however, that FBI agents met with Berg in the CPA prison on more than one occasion. The reason for his detention is unclear.

According to Reuters, Berg discussed the detention with his reporter friend in Baghdad.

"I guess they figured I was a spy," the reporter quoted Berg as saying.


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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