Members of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's family gathered here Thursday to mourn the death of the notorious al Qaeda in Iraq leader whom they had disavowed last year after an attack on civilians in Jordan.
"We anticipated that he would be killed for a very long time," Sayel al-Khalayleh told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Zarqa, the poor industrial town that al-Zarqawi called home and from which he derived his name.
"We expected that he would be martyred," he said, in a low voice, signaling his grief over the death of his brother, whose real name is Ahmed Fadhil Nazzal al-Khalayleh.
"We hope that he will join other martyrs in heaven," he added.
Al-Khalayleh was one of 57 family members who signed a newspaper ad to disavow al-Zarqawi after the suicide bombings in Amman last November that killed 63 people. His use of the term martyr poses no contradiction for religious Arab Muslim opponents of the U.S. presence in Iraq who believe that death at the hands of an 'occupying force' confers martyrdom status on the deceased.
In Zarqa, al-Zarqawi's three sisters, all dressed in black, arrived at the one-story family home looking grief stricken. Accompanied by a man who was the husband of one, the sisters declined to talk to reporters as they entered the house.
The husband, who identified himself as Abu Qudama, said: "We're not sad that he's dead."
"To the contrary, we're happy because he's a martyr and he's now in heaven," added the man, who said he lost one of his legs fighting Russian forces in Afghanistan as part of the Islamic Mujahedeen.
Abu Qudama was later arrested as he was giving a live interview to Al-Jazeera praising al-Zarqawi, the channel reported. Jordanian officials refused to comment on the arrest.
Jordanian security briefly detained the channel's entire crew in al-Zarqa, Al-Jazeera said.
In front of the family home, a 13-year-old boy, who said he was al-Zarqawi's nephew, stared at a crush of reporters who had gathered there.
"I'm so sad about my uncle," said the boy, who identified himself as Omar.
He said the family heard the news of al-Zarqawi's death on Al-Jazeera satellite channel.
Other family members declined to come outside to speak to reporters, who knocked several times on their door.
As news of al-Zarqawi's death spread in his hometown, some 50 boys — aged 8 to 14 — took to the streets, hurling stones at reporters.
"These are lies, Zarqawi is still alive," said one the children, who identified himself as Mohammed. He said he was not an al-Zarqawi supporter, but that he was upset that his compatriot "was killed by American aggressors in Iraq."
In the wake of a triple hotel bombings in Amman last November, claimed by al-Zarqawi's group, the family of the al Qaeda in Iraq leader renounced him, telling King Abdullah II that they "severed links with him until doomsday."
In newspaper advertisements, the al-Khalayleh family, reiterated their strong allegiance to the king.
Al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks on the three Amman-based Western hotels, which killed 63 people, including three Iraqi suicide bombers whom al-Zarqawi said he had sent them on a suicide mission to Jordan.
The bombings, which included an attack on a Jordanian-Palestinian Muslim wedding, sparked widespread outrage among Jordanians who had been sympathetic to insurgents battling the U.S. military presence in Iraq.
Al-Zarqawi's group has vowed more strikes in Jordan, a U.S. ally that signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and has been the target of several al Qaeda terror plots because of its moderate stance and vocal criticism of extremist Islamic groups.
Jordan's State Security Court has sentenced al-Zarqawi to death in absentia three times for involvement in terror plots against his native country. One of the attacks was the assassination of U.S. aid official Laurence Foley, who was gunned down in Amman in 2002.
In the last two years, al-Zarqawi has been blamed for several failed terror plots in Jordan, including Aug. 19 missile strikes that narrowly missed two U.S. warships docked in the Red Sea port of Aqaba and a planned chemical attack on the Amman headquarters of the country's intelligence agency.