Before he appeared on video unmasked, al-Zarqawi was little more than a lethal shadow. In May 2004, Islamic militants released a video showing American hostage Nicholas Berg surrounded by five masked men. The one in the center, dressed completely in black, denounced the American occupation of Iraq before pulling out a large knife and cutting off Berg's head. Intelligence officials say that man was al-Zarqawi. al-Zarqawi was the biggest bogeyman of the American occupation of Iraq.
Washington put a $25 million price on his head -- the same as al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, called him "the most capable terrorist in Iraq."
He was considered the deadliest insurgent in Iraq, credited with countless terrorist attacks in the Middle East and the deaths of as many as 500 people. He is also believed to have participated in the beheading of South Korean translator Kim Sun-Il. In addition, al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the car bomb attacks at the U.N.'s Baghdad headquarters in August 2003, in the Shiite holy city of Najaf that same month, and in Baghdad in June 2004.
Al-Zarqawi was also cited as one of the reasons for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the U.N. Security Council, alleging he was the link between al Qaeda and Iraq.
Despite the threat al-Zarqawi posed, very little was known about him. The U.S. government's "wanted" notice featured his passport photo, but listed his height and weight as "unknown."
Much of the available information about al-Zarqawi came from intelligence services in Jordan, where Zarqawi was born, and where he had been sentenced and jailed for a number of terrorist crimes.
Al-Zarqawi's jihadi group, known as Attawhid Wal Jihad (Unity and Jihad), or al Tawhid, was initially established to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy. In the 1990s, he spent several years in a Jordanian prison for plotting to replace the monarchy with an Islamic state.
Later, Jordanian courts convicted him in absentia for a millennium plot to kill tourists, and for the October 2002 assassination of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
The group claimed the August 2003 bombings of the U.N. Baghdad headquarters and a main Shi'ite shrine in Najaf, as well as a suicide car bomb that killed the head of Iraq's former Governing Council, Izzedin Salim. <[p>
Al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the Nov. 9, 2005, suicide bombings at hotels in Amman that killed 59 people, including guests at a Jordanian wedding at the Radisson SAS hotel.
Al-Zarqawi was born Oct. 30, 1966, to Palestinian parents in a refugee camp in Jordan. He takes his name from his hometown ? a dusty mining town 17 miles north of Amman called Zarqa.
Al-Zarqawi is a nom de guerre. His family name is al-Khalayeh, but given name is unclear; it has been cited as Ahmed or Fadel Nazzel. His parents are dead, and reporters have found few living relations.
Locals mainly remember him as a pious youth who dropped out of high school and eventually went to fight in the Afghan war against the Soviets in the 1980s. Upon his return to Jordan, he began associating with militant groups and was jailed for several years.