He is said to run the most violent terror network among the many in Iraq. But who is he, and what are his beliefs?
This week, Correspondent Ed Bradley went to Jordan, where al-Zarqawi was born and spent most of his life, to find out more about this man who now has a $25-million price on his head. It's the same reward the United States is offering for Osama bin Laden – dead or alive.
Eugene Armstrong was executed on Monday, Jack Hensley on Tuesday, and on Sunday, the fate of Kenneth Bigley was still unknown.
Their executioner is allegedly Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and intelligence experts say he personally beheaded Eugene Armstrong the same way he beheaded Nicholas Berg nearly five months ago.
Al-Zarqawi heads al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, a terrorist organization alleged to be behind much of the increasing violence in Iraq. Few people had heard of the group, and almost no one had heard its leader speak, until last April, when al-Zarqawi released an audiotape urging his mujahadeen fighters in Iraq to battle in a holy war.
Al-Zarqawi's war has been raging in Iraq for over a year now. In August 2003, he was linked to a car-bomb attack on the Jordanian embassy, and he took responsibility for the bombing of the United Nations office in Baghdad less than two weeks later.
Al-Zarqawi's suicide bombers also struck a holy shrine to Shiites, who are included on his list of enemies. Also on his list are the Iraqi police.
In conducting his holy war, al-Zarqawi has become the new face and rising star of international terrorism. But his bloody resume in this dark world didn't begin in Iraq. It began in Jordan, where he was born.
He gets his name from the city where he was born – Zarca, which has a population of one million, and is located just northeast of the capital of Amman.
He was born as Ahmed al-Khalayleh, but in his 20s, like so many other Arabs, he followed the call of Jihad to Afghanistan to fight the Russians. It was there that religion became a major focus of his life. It was there that he learned the tools of terrorism. And it was there that he became known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
It was also where he met Saleh Ilhami, who covered the war as a journalist. For a while, al-Zarqawi also worked as a journalist, but most of his time was spent fighting the Russians. Ilhami says that his friend once told him about a dream he had -- about a sword falling from the sky -- with a verse from the Koran written on it.
"On one of its sides it was written, 'You shall have the upper hand if you are believers.' On the other side was written the word 'jihad,'" says Ilhami. "It was a type of prophecy or a vision. … That in the future he will become a great man."
Al-Zarqawi and Ilhami became so close that al-Zarqawi offered him his sister's hand in marriage. A video of Zarqawi at the wedding is the only footage of him known to exist. A year after the wedding, he returned home to Jordan, became involved in radical Islamic politics, was arrested for illegal possession of explosives, and sentenced to prison. That's where he met Laith Shubeilat, who told 60 Minutes that in his opinion, al-Zarqawi was extremely intolerant.
It was also his opinion of President Bush. "Like when Bush says you are either with me or against me or with bin Laden. Both sides think with the same logic – you either agree with me totally – or else you are the enemy," says Shubeilat. "There is no grey area. Those people, if you don't see 100 percent what they see, that I am on the other side."
"All sane people in the world live in the gray area," adds Shubeilat. "That's where we meet. But if I think that you are black and white, and I apply to you my norms, and you don't fit in my norms -- automatically, you become an enemy.
Does Shubeilat think Zarqawi is capable of the violence that's attributed to him? "Yes," he says.
In 1999, when King Abdullah came to power, Al-Zarqawi, along with hundreds of other prisoners, was released in a royal amnesty.
Oraib al-Rantawi says al-Zarqawi left prison a changed man: "I think his whole career as a leader of a terrorist group, as part of extremist fundamentalist group, was created in jail."
Rantawi heads a research institute in Amman that tracks radical Islamic movements. He says that from Jordan, al-Zarqawi went to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he trained with al Qaeda, and then set up his own training camp.
"He created his own organization, which is part of the international umbrella of al Qaeda," says Rantawi. "He has his own organization."
He used his organization to launch his own career as a terrorist, which began with a series of planned attacks back home in Jordan.
In addition to the allegations against al-Zarqawi in Iraq, there is a substantial case against him in Jordan. He was tried in absentia, convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of an American diplomat in Amman. In another trial, he received a 15 year sentence for plotting to use explosives against American and Israeli tourists who were here for the millennium.
Then in April, authorities say they uncovered a Zarqawi plot to destroy the headquarters of the Jordanian intelligence agency. The terrorists were caught before they could carry out their plan. On Jordanian TV, the leader confessed that his orders had come from Zarqawi.
By the eve of the war with Iraq, al-Zarqawi was showing up on U.S. radar screens. Secretary of State Colin Powell linked him with al Qaeda, in his speech before the United Nations: "Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants."
"Zarqawi is now the most hated, the most wanted person in Iraq," says Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser to Iraq's interim government. Via satellite from Baghdad, he told 60 Minutes that al-Zarqawi's strategy boils down to one tactic.
"Basically, it's a massive killing and massive destruction to inflict a massive psychological impact -- to demoralize the government, trying to demoralize our police and our new Iraqi army," says al-Rubaie. "That's his tactic. Explosions and massive killing to inflict massive psychological impact on people."
Many of his victims have been the police whom al-Zarqawi considers infidels. Yousef Rabbabah spent three years in prison with al-Zarqawi and says the terrorist believes anyone who works for the government violates the Koran.
"Someone who serves in the army or the police for example, this person is an infidel because he serves infidel regimes," says Rabbabah. "Theoretically, if you divide people into believers and non-believers, then non-believers should be killed according to his understanding of religion."
"This man, I believe he is a serial killer. I believe he is a sociopath worse than -- psychopath. And a massive killing," says al-Rubaie. "And he is a criminal before he superficially adopted Islam. And to justify his act of killing and his act of terror. So this man is capable of doing everything."
"What sort of Islam is this? This is total deviation from true Islam," says al-Rubaie. "Islam is all about mercy, it's all about love. It's all about peace. It's all about this -- loving people. It's all about submission to God. AL-Zarqawi has submitted himself to Satan. To the devil."
And there's no better example of that than the video of the execution of Nicolas Berg, which begins with these words written in Arabic: "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slaughters an American."
Al-Zarqawi's base of operations is said to be Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad. When U.S. forces pulled out of the city last April, rebel troops moved in. Estimates of the number of fighters Zarqawi controls range from hundreds to thousands.
But is he an independent operator, or is he tied to al Qaeda?
"On the operational level, he may well be acting independently," says al-Rubaie. "But on a strategic and policy-making level, he may well coordinate with the rest of al Qaeda and the global network in the world."
Capturing or killing al-Zarqawi has become a top priority for U.S. and Iraqi forces. On several occasions, according to al-Rubaie, they were close, but al-Zarqawi managed to escape.
Why is it so difficult to capture him when there are so many American coalition forces looking for him?
"This is not a conventional war. This is a very unconventional war," says al-Rubaie. "This is an intelligence-led war."
And so far, the intelligence has not been good enough to find him. American air strikes on alleged Zarqawi safe houses in Fallujah this week reportedly killed a number of his top lieutenants, and numerous innocent Iraqis.
With so many attacks attributed to just one man and his followers, al-Zarqawi has become a mythical figure. Arabs speculate that the Bush administration has exaggerated his connection to al Qaeda to justify that the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror.
However, al-Rubaie says that is nonsense. "Somebody is killing these policemen. Somebody is killing the Iraqi army recruits," says al-Rubaie.
"Somebody is doing these explosions all over the country. Somebody is doing these suicide bombers. And Zarqawi, there are a lot of fingerprints and blueprints of Zarqawi in these times."