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'Martyrs' In Iraq Mostly Saudis
Many of the suicide bombers appear to have been novices in warfare, attracted by the relative ease of access to Iraq and the lure of quick martyrdom. "This is not al Qaeda's first team," said Hammes of the National Defense University. "These are the scrubs who could never get us in the States."
Heavy Saudi Involvement
In a paper published in March, Reuven Paz, an Israeli expert on terrorism, analyzed the lists of jihadi dead. He found 154 Arabs killed over the previous six months in Iraq, 61 percent of them from Saudi Arabia, with Syrians, Iraqis and Kuwaitis together accounting for another 25 percent. He also found that 70 percent of the suicide bombers named by the Web sites were Saudi. In three cases, Paz found two brothers who carried out suicide attacks. Many of the bombers were married, well educated and in their late twenties, according to postings.
"While incomplete," Paz wrote, the data suggest "the intensive involvement of Saudi volunteers for jihad in Iraq."
In a telephone interview, Paz said his list -- assembled from monitoring a dozen Islamic extremist Web forums -- now had more than 200 names. "Many are students or from wealthy families -- the same sociological characteristics as the Sept. 11 hijackers," he said.
Saudis Dispute Numbers
The apparent predominance of Saudi fighters on the Internet lists has caused an alarmed reaction by Saudi officials, who fear a backlash from the Americans at the same time they are trying to convince the United States that they are working as allies against terrorism. While Saudi officials do not deny that Saudi citizens have taken up arms against the United States in Iraq, they argue that the long lists of Saudi dead could be a disinformation tactic or simply a recruiting tool used to lure Arab youth to Iraq by convincing them of how many others have already won a place in Paradise.
"Are there Saudis in Iraq? Yes, we know that. Absolutely. But are there the numbers being bandied about? We really don't believe so," said a Saudi official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.
"The Internet sites try to recruit people -- it's the best recruitment tool," said Saudi security analyst Nawaf Obaid. Obaid, who has worked closely with the government, said he found 47 cases of Saudis who were dead or injured reported in the kingdom's newspapers, far lower than Internet totals, and had concluded the overall number of Saudi jihadis in Iraq was in the hundreds. "But young guys, they read [on the Internet] we have thousands of Saudis there and think, 'I have to go, too.' "
Evan F. Kohlmann, a researcher who monitors Islamic extremist Web sites, has compiled a list of more than 235 names of Iraqi dead gleaned from the Internet since last summer, with more than 50 percent on his tally from Saudi Arabia as well. In some cases, he found photos or videos of dead foreign fighters posted online. One Kuwaiti policeman who died was featured in a Zarqawi propaganda video called "Winds of Change," while the bloodied corpse of a Turkish al Qaeda disciple, Habib Aktas, was shown on another video celebrating his "martyrdom."
Some of the Web postings also include phone numbers so fellow Islamists can call a dead fighter's family and congratulate them. Kohlmann called several of the numbers. "I have lists and lists of foreign fighters, and it's no joke. Their sons went and blew themselves up in Iraq," he said.
Zarqawi's group has also regularly posted biographical sketches of its suicide bombers, such as that of Abu Anas Tuhami, said to have died in a suicide attack on Iraq's Election Day in January. Tuhami, a Saudi orphan raised by his grandfather, was unusually saintly, as reported in the February online communique.
Quick Path to Paradise
"O' brother, I love to sleep on the floor and I need no mattress," Tuhami was quoted as telling one fellow foreign fighter. He was to have been married in February. "Instead, he chose to be with the virgins of paradise," the announcement said. "He used to talk frequently about the virgins of paradise and their beauty, and he wished to drink a sip from the sustenance of paradise while a virgin beauty wiped his mouth."
One Web forum examined by The Post, a site first registered to an Abu Dhabi individual on Sept. 18, 2001, and believed to attract postings from al Qaeda, presents a regularly updated list of the "Arab martyrs in Iraq." The forum, at http:/
Saudis were also the leading group on this list, representing 44 percent, followed by Syrians and Iraqis at less than 15 percent each. Many of the dead appeared to be young newcomers to jihad with stories like Qahtani's, though other listings detailed the deaths of veteran fighters who came through the al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan before Sept. 11, including the father of Ammar Souri, the 13-year-old said to have died during last year's fighting in Fallujah.
Biographies of Bombers
Often the entries bragged about the number of Americans killed by the "lions from the martyrs' brigade," as in the case of Ahmed Said Ghamdi, a 20-year-old Saudi who was said to have given up his medical studies in Sudan to go to Iraq and was hailed as the "hero" of a Mosul suicide bombing of a mess tent that killed 22 people.
Another list, posted in February on the forum called Masada at http:/
Biographical details are often sketchy in the online obituaries, as is the case with Qahtani, the young Saudi said to have died April 11 while attacking a U.S. Marine base in the western Iraqi city of Qaim. The account of his death located by Kohlmann on the Internet does not say whether Qahtani was driving the commandeered dump truck that barreled onto the base, wreaking havoc before exploding, or whether he was in one of two other vehicles that blew up while another group of fighters opened fire on Marines.
It gives no more identifying details than his name -- indicating he was part of a well-known Saudi tribe that also produced the al Qaeda member known as the so-called 20th hijacker, Mohamed Qahtani, who was turned away from entering the country by suspicious U.S. airport officials in August 2001.
Five other Qahtanis have been reported killed in Iraq, including Muhammed bin Aedh Ghadif Qahtani, a captain in the Saudi National Guard who allegedly used his guard identification badge to help gain entry into Iraq when he was stopped for questioning.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.