UMA PEMMARAJU: We are back.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the man thought to be behind the horrific beheading of Nicholas Berg, has now emerged as one of the most dangerous terrorists in the world, perhaps even eclipsing Osama bin Laden. Now, despite a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head, Zarqawi has traveled freely in recent months in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.
Joining us now from Washington, Jonathan Schanzer of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and, joining us here in New York in our studios, Fox News Foreign Affairs Analyst Mansoor Ijaz. Gentlemen, nice to have you here.
Let's begin Mansoor with you. With all of this focus on Zarqawi, I know that you really are concerned and others are concerned that given the spotlight on this gentlemen it has given him a platform and suggesting to his supporters that his message is getting out there and that he is successful when it comes to trying to incite fear in the American public.
But many people in this country simply don't know much about this gentleman because all of a sudden he's now emerging, even though he's been on the most wanted list, he's emerging now as someone who could eclipse bin Laden. Who is this guy?
MANSOOR IJAZ, FNC FOREIGN AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, he's a Jordanian. He's the person who trained with bin Laden in the very early days of the Afghan jihad and was someone who was brought into the framework of the poisons, biological/chemical weapons expertise and so forth that they developed.
He met a number of times with Iraqi scientists in Pakistan in the Iraqi Embassy in Islamabad. He is the guy who -- he lost a leg during the later part of the Afghan conflict. He was then transported through Iran to Iraq where Saddam Hussein then gave him safe refuge.
The key thing about him though is that he was the person who essentially structured the entire ricin poison network in Europe, which means that he has access to the people, to the networks that can transport him back and forth through Turkey.
The first time that he went to Paris, for example, he went from Turkey through Albania with the Albanian mercenaries and terrorist groups helping him move around from Point A to Point B. He's an expert in all kinds of weapons designs.
And so what makes him dangerous is that he has -- I call him the mutated version of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. He's al Qaeda version 2.0, the head of the organization now and I would say that he is a high priority target for us to get, as high priority as Saddam Hussein was in Iraq.
The problem is that where Saddam's people were willing to rat him out, this man has a loyal cadre of people in Ansar al-Islam, which was this group that Saddam was harboring, the al Qaeda affiliate. He has a group that is loyal to him. He's known to have killed -- given the order to kill Americans.
He has now killed an American. He's the one who gave the order to kill the U.S. diplomat in Amman and I think that we have to put every resource we can to put this guy in custody as soon as we possibly can.
PEMMARAJU: Jonathan Schanzer, there are a lot of people who are really surprised that Zarqawi was able to even get into Iraq given the high security, given the fact that we have so many troops on the ground and our intelligence reports suggesting some of the movements of some of these characters. How could someone like Zarqawi get into Iraq at this point?
SCHANZER: Actually it's quite easy. The Iranian border is incredibly porous. There are about three to ten people that are captured per week that are streaming over the Iran border into Iraq. In other words, we just don't know how many other people are getting through.
We don't have a lot of people on the border. The security has been rather lax. We've not been able to put as many people there as we'd like because of the operations that are taking up time inside Iraq itself.
So what you have is just a very dangerous border situation and essentially it appears right now that the IRGC, the revolutionary guards of Iran, are providing Zarqawi and a lot of the Ansar al-Islam cadres, they're providing them shelter and it appears that they're actually facilitating Zarqawi's entry and exit from Iran into Iraq.
PEMMARAJU: Mansoor, do you agree with that?
IJAZ: Yes, absolutely.
PEMMARAJU: I mean the fact that that's how he's been going back and forth and that. What about Syria and Iraq being able to help him fund his activities and to give him safe harbor?
IJAZ: Well, that's where we get into the broader implications of what this is all about. The fact of the matter is that Zarqawi represents a high quality short term problem for us because he at the same time has shown his willingness to be the guy at the front leading the pack, showing not physically his face but showing that he is the one running the operation.
We know he has the capacity to communicate with cells in Europe. The Spanish cell that blew up the trains was in all likelihood given instructions by him. We know he's got the capacity and he's trying desperately to get people recruited, citizens, British citizens and take Pakistanis into his force.
PEMMARAJU: Do you think he is more charismatic than a bin Laden with some of these young recruits?
IJAZ: It's not a matter of being charismatic. What it is that he's doing he's committing the terrorist acts one right after the other and in their warped sense of justice he's doing it in the eye for an eye format, which is what this radicalized version of Islam that they want to purvey is all about.
Now, the second stage of the problem is that he has convinced the states around him, Syria and Iran, to continue funding all of whatever it is that they're doing.
And, even though he's made statements against the Iranian mullahs and so forth, those are all done for cosmetic purposes so that you can misdirect and everybody believes that he's not working with them while the Iranian money just keeps on flowing in one truck ride after the other.
And then you get to the larger implications even further a field and that is where I'm very concerned. This Indian election, for example, has transformed everything.
We now all of a sudden don't have key ally in the war on terror there as well, so that's why we've got to be very concerned about each one of these different stages that we're at.
PEMMARAJU: Let me ask you, Jonathan for a moment to just focus on the horrific video that the world witnessed with the beheading of Nicholas Berg. Right now there are people who found it interesting and fascinating and believable on some levels that this Zarqawi character would do this crime himself and want it shown to the world that he was on this video.
I understand that in the past he's wanted to be more of a low profile, a guy behind the scenes. What do you make of all this, the fact that he is out front and in the spotlight in this video?
SCHANZER: Well, I mean I think we need to just look at his behavior leading up to this video. Here's a man that has sent several audio messages out to the world, challenged Bush directly telling President Bush that his time will soon come. He has, I think, solely ramped up his propaganda efforts in terms of trying to communicate with the Muslim world and also trying to communicate with the U.S. leadership.
You know after watching this video, I am not actually convinced that it was him. If he really did want to actually claim responsibility and make it 100 percent clear that he was behind it why did he have a mask on?
The other thing that I question about it actually is that here's a man that has an amputated and the man who was -- who ended up killing Nick Berg seemed somewhat agile, so I'm actually a little bit dubious as to whether this was him or not. I know U.S. officials have talked about it and they said that it's likely Zarqawi who did the hilling in that video. I'm still not convinced.
PEMMARAJU: All right, gentlemen, we are unfortunately out of time, a very interesting discussion and certainly something that we're going to be keeping a close eye on. We appreciate it. Thank you very much.