Guests: Richard Myers, Wayne Downing, Roger Cressey
RITA COSBY, HOST (voice over): Huge news tonight. The number one terrorist in Iraq now a dead man.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Zarqawi‘s death is a severe blow to al Qaeda. It‘s a victory in the global war on terror.
COSBY: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, tracked, targeted and terminated in a coordinated and surgical airstrike. He promoted bombings, beheadings, and even brutality against his own countrymen.
How did they find him? And why are there tonight warnings of more violence in Iraq? And who is the most wanted terrorist now?
COSBY: And good evening, everybody. Welcome to our one-hour special.
Today, a major victory in the war on terror. Zarqawi, Iraq‘s top terrorist, has been killed in a carefully planned U.S. airstrike.
NBC‘s Jim Maceda is live tonight in Baghdad.
Jim, what‘s the mood there? Are people worried about retaliation?
JIM MACEDA, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, people are sleeping.
So the mood, we‘ll get a better sense of the mood as people get up.
There was quite a bit of cheering, of dancing in the streets, a lot of relief as well expressed by both Sunnis and Shiites today. But, you know, after all of the hits that the U.S. military has taken, Rita, of late, thinking about the Haditha investigation, and what have you, this is how U.S. military intelligence and high technology were supposed to work. And they worked very well.
You had F-16 fighter jets firing two laser-guided 500-pound bombs into that safe house Wednesday evening near Baquba, about 30 miles north of us here in Baghdad. A direct hit instantly killing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as well as his spiritual leader, Abu Abdul Rahman al-Iraqi, and four other individuals.
Now, this followed a painstaking two-week intelligence effort. They apparently went to 17 safe houses, raided them right after this strike, and collected what U.S. intelligence officials called a treasure trove of intelligence.
This morning, we saw Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, flanked by the top U.S. officials here in Iraq, announce Zarqawi‘s death. You heard loud applause and cheers from the Iraqi press corps.
Again, talking to the people in the street, there was relief expressed by both Sunnis and Shiites, hoping that somehow Zarqawi‘s demise would bring an end to their daily nightmare. But of course al Qaeda in Iraq, Rita, is just a fraction of that very patchwork insurgency here. They‘ve got several hundred fighters loyal, but still only several hundred, compared to the 15,000 or so homegrown Iraqi fighters that make up the insurgency.
So no surprise, Rita, that the low-grade civil war continued. We saw it in the streets of Baghdad. There were five more car bombs that struck, rocked the capital, as well as northern Iraq, killing at least 40 individuals, wounding dozens.
That said, it was a very good day for Iraqis. Zarqawi confirmed dead. Maliki, finally, after three weeks filing those two top security posts as well in his cabinet. But any analyst will tell you that al Qaeda‘s like a hydra. It will re-grow that head, it will regroup shortly, maybe in days or weeks. And this insurgency is far from over.
Rita, back to you.
COSBY: Jim, thank you very much staying up there in Baghdad. We appreciate it in the wee hours of the morning.
And so how important is this strike on Zarqawi? Joining us now is the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers.
General, great to have you with us on this very important day.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS, FMR. JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Good evening. How are you?
COSBY: Very good.
You know, what do you make of this? Is this a game changer? Could this turn the tide in Iraq?
MYERS: Well, it‘s really significant, but how much it will change the game I think is going to have to—have to—we‘ll have to wait and see how that turns out. But it‘s significant, and on a couple of levels.
One is on the wider war on terrorism, this is a significant event. Not only was Zarqawi the leader in Iraq, but I—there were indications that al Qaeda had other plans for him as well to take the fight perhaps to Europe or the United States.
So this is a—and he‘s a very, very bad man. He operates in a very barbaric, uncivilized way. And so it‘s significant at that level.
And then it‘s also significant because al Qaeda made their central fight and their central stand in Iraq, and Zarqawi was their man. So it took out Zarqawi, his spiritual advisor, some other lieutenants.
And I think one of the things I would say is this has been a process, hunting for Zarqawi, that‘s been going on now for years. And obviously successful here yesterday. But that‘s—and it will go on in the future.
I mean, as Jim said from Baghdad, there will be folks that will probably replace him. And so the people that are on the hunt are probably working tonight to sift through the intelligence and to continue this hunt. But this has been a very diligent effort by some very smart U.S. military, U.S. intelligence folks, with the cooperation, I understand, Rita, of—and the input from Iraqi forces and Iraqi intelligence.
COSBY: And Jordanian, too, General. You know, what about—why do an airstrike versus, you know, something on the ground? Why, you know, kill him versus capture him?
MYERS: Well, you know, I don‘t know the tactical situation, and I would have to leave it in the hands of those that designed the tactics. I think they are prepared.
Generally, we can do either one, and so there must have been a tactical reason why they felt they needed to come in with an airstrike at the time they did. But I can‘t—I can‘t tell you the reason why. But I‘m sure they had probably several options available to them, and they picked the one they thought was going to be the most effective.
COSBY: How much of a morale boost do you think this is going to be for the guys on the ground who have been fighting, as you know—and you have been over there so many times, General—fighting so hard for our freedom?
MYERS: Oh, I think—I think it will help boost morale. Anytime you get a person like Zarqawi, who has so many innocent men—the blood of so many innocent men, women and children on his hands, mainly Iraqis, Iraqi children, Iraqi men, Iraqi women, the person that was trying to foment the sectarian violence and obviously had some success at it, I mean, he was just so ruthless and clever, too, because he evaded capture for so long.
But we were relentless, and we got him. I think it will be a morale boost. But the troops over there, I think, know the mission is more than Zarqawi. The insurgency is more complex than just the al Qaeda piece of it, although that‘s certainly the highest profile piece, and the bombings that get most of the coverage because they are so spectacular.
I mean, he goes into markets, he goes into hospitals. He‘ll go wherever he can try to foment unrest and intimidate and kill innocent men, women and children. So the troops know this is a long battle, Rita, and I think they‘re going to continue to press on.
COSBY: What do you think it means in terms of troop strength? There has been a lot of discussions today, General, as to whether we should beef up our troops, back up our troops now. What do you think?
MYERS: Well, I don‘t think today‘s events are going to have a direct impact on that. I think those assessments—at least when I was chairman, those assessments go on periodically.
General Casey, General Abizaid, the senior commanders there in-country and the folks back here in Washington evaluate that periodically, and they‘ll continue to do that. And I don‘t—I have no insight into that. And I know what the plan was when I—when I left office, and we‘re pretty much on the plan as it was then. But I think we‘ll have to just let the process work.
And we ought to think in terms of winning. I mean, this is—Iraq is
we cannot lose in Iraq. If we lose in Iraq, al Qaeda wins. And that would not be good.
It would not be god for our safety and our security. And so I think rather than focus on troop withdrawals, we ought to think about—about winning. And as the Iraqi forces become more competent, and as their political leadership stands up and becomes good at governing their country, then we can obviously reduce our forces.
COSBY: General Richard Myers, thank you very much.
The former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Thank you so much for being with us, sir. It‘s great to have you.
MYERS: Thank you, Rita.
COSBY: Thanks so much.
Well, it took some of our military‘s most elite fighters to take out Zarqawi. NBC Pentagon Correspondent Jim Miklaszewski has more on this special group of warriors known only as Task Force 145.
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Rita, for well over the past year there has been an elite group of Special Forces commandos called Task Force 145, whose primary mission in Iraq has been to get Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Now in their search for Zarqawi, they have managed to kill or capture more than 220 al Qaeda operatives. They have doggedly collected intelligence, and in the process came close to Zarqawi at least three times. Most recently in April. And that‘s when U.S. officials say they caught their biggest break, when they identified and started tracking Zarqawi‘s spiritual advisor who unwittingly led Special Operations Forces to Zarqawi this week.
In addition, we‘re told U.S. intelligence intercepted some critical al Qaeda phone calls which also helped U.S. forces track down Zarqawi.
The mission now for Task Force 145, destroy Al Qaeda in Iraq—Rita.
COSBY: Jim, thank you very much.
And we‘re joined now by MSNBC terrorism analyst General Wayne Downing. He‘s the chairman of the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
And also joining us is counterterrorism analyst Roger Cressey.
General, do you know how big this group is? Or what do you imagine Task Force 145 to be? And how tough is it to act on this kind of actionable intelligence, to drop these two 500-pound bombs?
GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, Rita, it‘s a task force that they tailor for the mission. And they draw it, as Jim said, from the special mission units that we have in Special Operations. They‘re augmented by the Rangers, by some Special Operations helicopters, and whatever else they need.
They‘ve been running operations like this since 9/11, since we went in to Afghanistan, and they are basically the global man hunters that are out tracking these people down. They are extremely professional. They are extremely well-trained. And because they conduct operations literally 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they are also extremely effective.
And so putting this operation together, you know, while it‘s complex, is certainly something that they do, and they do very well, as they proved in this operation, Rita.
COSBY: Yes, they sure did.
You know, Roger, one of Zarqawi‘s own men turned on him. You know, we had an informant who was working there. First (ph) it was the spiritual leader. And then they got really lucky that Zarqawi was going.
Were they lucky or was it bound to happen?
ROGER CRESSEY, NBC NEWS ANALYST: Well, you talk to any military man and he‘ll tell you there‘s always a little bit of luck and there‘s a little bit of timing involved consistent with really good planning.
COSBY: Do you think, Roger, in the sense that there was so—you know, the insurgents were sort of angry at Zarqawi, enough guys turning on him?
CRESSEY: Well, we don‘t know that yet. And the interesting question is, was there an informant inside Zarqawi‘s network who decided, for whatever reason, to give up information on Rahman‘s whereabouts, and that ultimately led coalition forces to Zarqawi and Rahman together? An open question right now, but I think the textbook example of is, is the U.S. military, the forces that General Downing talked about, joint Special Operations command leading this, as well as the CIA and other elements of our intelligence community, working together to pull all of the information and make it actionable so that when you do have this target of opportunity against a high-value target like Zarqawi, you‘re able to take direct action immediately and eliminate the target.
COSBY: You know, General, how important is it to build on this momentum now? We have this very successful strike. Is it important that we kind of keep it up and step up?
DOWNING: Absolutely, Rita. And believe me, they are.
Those forces in the field are not resting. They are not sitting around the team room high-fiving each other. They are probably doubling, tripling their efforts, because once you get your enemy reeling, you want to really keep the pressure on them, because that‘s when they make mistakes. That‘s when it becomes easier to find some of them.
So I anticipate that these guys are going to really go hard now to exploit this great victory that they‘ve had.
COSBY: And Roger, we know that in that safe house which was bombed—of course, obliterated, basically, by those bombs—that they found nearby, though, some treasure trove of information that you can bet, right, that they are probably going to weed through that, seeing who else maybe was near the scene.
Maybe we‘ll see some other big arrests?
CRESSEY: Yes, Rita, what was interesting was, almost in conjunction with the attack on the safe house, multinational forces in Iraq launched an effort against 17 other targets, where they picked up individuals and picked up computers, documents. So the exploitation phase of all of this information is going on. And what you hope is that the information produces other actionable intelligence that will allow coalition forces to go after additional targets and continue to take apart what remains of Zarqawi‘s network.
His network is still very deadly and effective. So while today was a very important tactical victory, there is still a lot of work still to be done.
COSBY: All right, gentlemen. Please stay us, because our special coverage of the death of Zarqawi is going to continue, everybody.
Find out why the hunt for the dead terrorist‘s successor may not be found on the battlefield but in cyberspace.
That‘s coming up. And that‘s not all, everybody. Take a look.
COSBY (voice over): Still ahead, how did Zarqawi command so much bloody power? An exclusive look at how one of his gruesome attacks may have fueled the deadly insurgency in Iraq.
And with Zarqawi gone, will some of his evil tactics, like kidnapping and beheadings, die with him? The father of one of his victims, Nick Berg, join me live.
Plus, who are the radical sickos (ph) willing to blow themselves up all for a madman with a thirst for blood? It‘s coming up on this “Live & Direct” special report.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: No single person on this planet has had the blood of more innocent men, women and children on his hands.
COSBY: Iraq‘s top terrorist is dead tonight, but how did Zarqawi become one of the most dangerous men in the world?
NBC Senior Investigative Correspondent Lisa Myers followed his trail of terror back to his roots in Jordan. She joins us with that story.
LISA MYERS, NBC SR. INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Rita, we went to Jordan last summer to find out how a man some say was once a street thug became a figure of global significance, sometimes referred to as “The Butchering Sheik”.
MYERS (voice over): Zarqawi‘s real name is Ahmad Fadil Nazzal Al-Khalayleh. He was born in Zerka, a dusty desert town just outside Jordan‘s capital, Amman. He grew up in this house with eight brothers and sisters and later took the town‘s name for his alias, Zarqawi.
At 17, Zarqawi dropped out of school and became a street thug. He was not religious. His mother brought him to the nearby mosque, where he was introduced to a radical form of Islam called Salafism, which calls for the return of ancient Islamic rule and creation of an Islamic state with rigid cultural rules.
Jean Charles Brisard has written a biography of Zarqawi.
JEAN CHARLES BRISARD, AL-ZARQAWI BIOGRAPHER: Unfortunately, it was the wrong mosque at the wrong time. The leader of the mosque, the preachers, were radical Salafists who drove him not to the right path but to the path of jihad. And from this day came his wish to go and fight, to make his own jihad.
MYERS: So in the ‘80s, Zarqawi joined the jihad in Afghanistan, fighting the Soviet occupation. He returned to Jordan in 1992 and managed a video rental store that failed. Within a year, Zarqawi was arrested for possessing explosives and sent to prison.
That‘s where journalist Abdul Abu Rahman, who was in jail for criticizing the Jordanian government, met Zarqawi and his group of militants.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zarqawi was the most extremist person in this group, and he was talking that, the infidels, we have to kill the infidels.
DR. BASEL ISHAQ, PRISON PHYSICIAN: He told them to come to see me one by one, and they were very, very organized.
MYERS: Dr. Basel Ishaq, a prison physician, remembers going to the prison to examine the group. He says Zarqawi clearly was in charge and controlled followers with his eyes.
ISHAQ: He never talked to them. Just by looking to him, and they used to come to me.
BRISARD: He became a real leader in prison. That‘s usually the case for most of these jihaddist figures. He was able to manage a group of prisoners, political prisoners jailed with him.
MYERS: After seven years behind bars, Zarqawi was released from prison in an amnesty program and immediately fled to Pakistan. Then back to Afghanistan, where he hooked up with al Qaeda leaders. Abdul Abu Rahman says From the beginning Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden had their differences.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard from people here in Jordan who were there or talked to him that his relation with bin Laden, it was not very good, because he looked to bin Laden as not extreme (ph) enough, you know? He‘s not strong enough.
MYERS: After the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks, Zarqawi traveled to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Jordan. In October 202, Jordanian authorities say he masterminded the murder of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley in Amman.
When the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003, Zarqawi was in Kurdistan, beginning to build an insurgency. By that summer, he had claimed responsibility for two massive suicide bombings, the Jordanian Embassy and the U.N. headquarters, killing more than 40.
Since then, he has turned Iraq into a bloody training ground for the world‘s terrorists.
MYERS: At the time of his death, Zarqawi had emerged as a rival of sorts to Osama bin Laden. He drew both money and attention away from al Qaeda central. In fact, Rita, al Qaeda central may not be all that sad to lose him.
COSBY: Well, you know, Lisa, you talk about this uneasy relationship between Zarqawi and bin Laden. Will bin Laden and al Qaeda now maybe use Zarqawi‘s death to sort of rally supporters? Use it to their advantage?
MYERS: Oh, no doubt the terrorist movement is masterful at trying to turn events like this into an inspirational event. We saw this today in jihadi chat rooms, and certainly counter-terror analysts expect an audio or videotape any day now from bin Laden or Zawahiri.
But, in fact, Zarqawi had become something of a problem nephew to these men. His ruthless attacks on Muslims, especially on children, had created problems for the terror movement. Yet, when Zawahiri had sent Zarqawi a letter saying knock it off, Zarqawi basically ignored him.
COSBY: You know, you talked about the chat rooms. What are the chat rooms saying today, particularly the insurgent ones?
MYERS: Well, the jihadi chat rooms are really overwhelmed today. The bulletin boards are—there are tributes to Zarqawi from all kinds of people.
His picture at death has been posted. It‘s been adorned with green doves and other inspirational signals that indicate they believe that Zarqawi was a martyr.
In fact, when Zarqawi‘s own lieutenants announced his death on the Internet today, they described it as a joyous occasion because he had been martyred, and said it was a blessing to the nation. Even terrorists do spin.
COSBY: Lisa Myers, thank you very much.
Well, Zarqawi‘s trail of terror spread far and wide, affecting many personally and brutally along the way, including innocent American civilians in Iraq. So how are Zarqawi‘s victims reacting to today‘s major news?
Nicholas Berg is believed to have been personally beheaded by Zarqawi. It was the first brutal beheading that shocked the world. Today, his father, Michael Berg, spoke out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL BERG, SON BEHEADED IN IRAQ: I think that the death of any human being is a tragedy, and this human being in particular is going to result in a new wave of revenge. Revenge is the way of George Bush. Revenge is the way of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. And it‘s going to lead to nothing any good.
I feel loss at the loss of any human being. Any man‘s death diminishes me, is what John Donne said, and I believe that. I don‘t believe in the methods of Zarqawi any more than I believe in the methods of George Bush. But he is a human being, and I feel badly for his family.
I‘m sorry that his family is now going to go through what my family has gone through with the death of Nick.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: Surprising comments. Those comments from Michael Berg, the father of Nicholas Berg, who was beheaded, they believe by al-Zarqawi.
And everybody stay with us. Our special one hour of Zarqawi and the implications, they continue after the break.
Find out how the Internet is a breeding ground for terrorists and how the Internet could signal who the next terrorist mastermind could be.
But first, who are the people who follow these terror madmen around and are willing to give their lives in the name of violence and brutality? That‘s next.
COSBY: And welcome back to our special hour of coverage.
The man responsible for fueling some of the worst violence in Iraq is now out of the picture. But no one expects that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi‘s death to end the insurgency that is tearing the country apart.
NBC Senior Investigative Correspondent Lisa Myers has more on where these extremists are coming from.
MYERS (voice over): Why are so many young Muslims willing to give their own lives to kill Americans? The president says it‘s because the radical Islamists fear freedom.
BUSH: They know that when their hateful ideology is defeated in Iraq the Middle East will have a clear example of freedom and prosperity and hope, and the terrorists will begin to lose their sponsors and lose their recruits.
And the terrorists will begin to lose their sponsors and lose their recruits.
MYERS: Many analysts say that may be true in the case of committed terrorists. But even strong supporters of the war, such as General Downing, say U.S. policy also is fueling the jihad in Iraq.
DOWNING: What inspires this, Lisa, is our actions in Iraq. It‘s not our culture. It‘s not our religion. It‘s not our decadent lifestyle. It‘s what they see as our behavior in Iraq, which they term to be anti-Islamic and very capricious on our part.
MYERS: Michael Scheuer ran the bin Laden desk at the CIA and studied al Qaeda recruits.
(on camera): Why do you believe most of these men go to Iraq to kill Americans?
MICHAEL SCHEUER, FMR. CIA AL QAEDA EXPERT: Because we invaded a Muslim country. It‘s very simple. It has nothing to do with our freedoms or our liberties.
MYERS (voice-over): Some of the foreign fighters are hardcore al Qaeda. But experts believe that for most, this is their first act of violence.
(on camera): On balance, are the foreign fighters more lethal and more capable than the Iraqi insurgents?
DOWNING: I would say on balance, the foreign fighters are. And I think that‘s a reflection of Zarqawi. His viciousness. He inspires his troops to extraordinary measures.
MYERS (voice-over): And his planning is meticulous. This video shows a cell leader using a pointer and projected video on the screen to lay out the route and plan of attack for the triple suicide bombing of two Baghdad hotels.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The Palestine Hotel will be the target in Abidjahiman (ph) in the Jeep Cherokee.
MYERS: The men climb into their vehicles, including a cement truck with a 1,000-pound bomb. Two suicide bombers hit their targets, but the third fails when U.S. troops stop the cement truck before it reaches the hotel. The identity of these bombers is unknown. But experts say the identity of many of the faces behind the masks and bombers behind the wheel in Iraq would surprise many Americans.
SCHEUER: Typically where al Qaeda has been involved, usually a middle class or an upper middle class group, usually well-educated, from good families.
MYERS (on camera): So these just are not people who are down and out and on the fringes of society?
SCHEUER: No. In recent years, the research has known that these people are not hopeless cases, people who don‘t have a future.
MYERS (voice-over): No Pentagon or White House official would agree to an on-camera interview with us about foreign fighters. Much of what we know about individual fighters comes from so-called martyrdom videos on militant Islamic Web sites, which NBC News cross-checked with intelligence services, and when possible, the fighters‘ families.
NBC News terror analyst Evan Kohlmann has been monitoring these Internet postings for two years.
EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST: You have doctors, you have lawyers, you have teachers, you have clerics. These guys come from every sector of society, they even include members of armed forces of other countries, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
COSBY: And our thanks there to Lisa Myers. And we‘re joined again by our terrorism analyst, one of the men you saw there in the video, General Wayne Downing, who is also the chairman of a Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. And also with us is analyst Roger Cressey.
Roger, first to you. Do you think that al Qaeda will see maybe a drop-off of recruitment now that they don‘t have charismatic leader al-Zarqawi?
ROGER CRESSEY, COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: We can hope for that, but I doubt it. I think the same factors that contribute to the funding of terrorism in Iraq, to the movement of recruits, to the other logistics support, this greater jihad objective that forces these individuals to undertake jihad, is still there.
The loss of Zarqawi, he is a symbol, a symbol of global ambitions. But his elimination alone will not stop the flow of people and money into Iraq. There are other issues there that we have to deal with.
COSBY: You know, General Downing, I‘m surprised, because we got some new numbers that says that—the administration is saying that only about 5 percent of the insurgency is really made up of foreign fighters. I was surprised the number is that low. It was quite high early on in the war. Do you think that Zarqawi‘s death will have an impact at least on these people?
DOWNING: Well, Rita, probably not. I think what we‘re seeing now is a real surge in these folks trying to show that they‘re still a factor, that they‘re still out there, that they‘re still important.
COSBY: And in fact, we saw 40 deaths today alone in five bombings.
DOWNING: Right. And that may continue. But of course the question is going to be who‘s going to take his place? And there‘s been a couple of names that have been suggested. But the other thing is, is what‘s this new person going to do?
You know, Zawahiri (sic) was a hero and he was also a big headache for Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri. So Zarqawi disobeyed what they told him to do. He was not a unifying factor for the insurgency in Iraq. He was too violent. He killed too many innocent people. And there were a lot of people who wanted to see him removed from the scene.
Perhaps they‘ll get a more moderate leader that might be more effective even. I hope that doesn‘t happen. But I think we‘re going to have to see what happens. This has hurt them, Rita, but it certainly has not put them out of business.
COSBY: And in fact, that is exactly what Donald Rumsfeld had to say.
Let‘s play what the defense secretary had to say a little earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The death of Zarqawi, while enormously important, will not end of all violence in that country, and one ought not to take it as such. But let there be no doubt the fact that he is dead is a significant victory in the battle against terrorism in that country, and I would say worldwide.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: You know, we asked people on our Web site—in fact, if you want to go to our blog, you can go up to our Web site, the MSNBC one. Also we will have a connection also onto our blog, rita.msnbc.com. This is what people thought of Zarqawi‘s death. Will it have an effect on the war? And the answer is some people were a little bit surprised: 26 percent said that his death will likely be a huge blow to the insurgency; 30 percent said it‘s a small setback; and a majority, you can see there, 44 percent, Roger, said inconsequential.
CRESSEY: Well, those look like good numbers. And that‘s an informed group of participants.
COSBY: Yes, very educated, I think.
CRESSEY: Very much so. And I think that‘s a function of people understanding the type of threat that is in Iraq right now, that this insurgency there is much more than foreign fighters in terms of the numbers that you pointed out. And the—I think there‘s an appreciation on the part of the American people that success in Iraq as we‘re trying to define it is much more than just eliminating individuals like Zarqawi however significant they may be.
But this type of event today is a tactical victory, Rita, and the long-term strategic challenges in Iraq go far beyond Zarqawi and his basic network.
COSBY: You know, General, you talked about also who will replace him, and unfortunately, as Roger and both of you are talking about, there are so many people behind him who are willing to take his place. How soon until a new leader of his ilk could emerge?
DOWNING: Well, it depends upon if the others—if the other insurgents actually accept this new leader. You know, we think that he probably named a successor because he knew he was going to at some point be killed or be captured. So someone is out there that supposedly has the mantel.
Now, Rahman, the man who was killed with him, the spiritual adviser, was one that we expected might be the new leader. He‘s dead. So we‘ll see how this thing emerges. But it does not make any difference. This thing is going to continue. We‘ve got to fight a counterinsurgency campaign.
I think key to that, Rita, the comments that I made to Lisa Myers several weeks ago, is we‘ve got to lower the U.S. profile. We‘ve got to get the Iraqi forces stood up so that they can fight this thing. We have got to support them. But basically.
COSBY: General, are you saying pull out troops.
DOWNING: . we have got to take the American face off this war.
COSBY: You‘re saying reduce troops, obviously.
DOWNING: Pardon me?
COSBY: You‘re saying reduce troops.
DOWNING: Yes. I think we have to reduce troops. We‘re not going to cut and run. I don‘t advise that. But we have got to take an American face off of this conflict. This is not something that American troops can solve. This is something that the Iraqis have to solve. And it‘s far more than a military battle.
This is political, social, economic, and the only thing that the military and the police do is provide security conditions so that this country can be rebuilt. But let‘s not—you know, let‘s not think the military can win this. They cannot.
COSBY: Good points from both of you. Unfortunately, I think we‘re going to be talking a lot about this in the days ahead. Thank you both very much. Roger Cressey, General Wayne downing, great to have both of you with us, gentlemen.
And still ahead, how Zarqawi used the Internet to help carry out his terrorist attacks. And what role cyberspace is playing in the war on terror.
Plus, who is now the most wanted terrorist in Iraq and in the world?
We‘ll show you the most wanted madmen coming up.
COSBY: While most of the civilized world saw Zarqawi as a key mastermind of terror, his supporters today praised him as a martyr. And in the Jordanian town that he called home, his family prepared to bury the man that they called heroic.
NBC‘s Martin Fletcher is there.
MARTIN FLETCHER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Zarqawi‘s family said they knew that sooner or later he‘d be killed. Tonight, the family home in the town of Zarqa, the mourning begins. Police barred the pressed from town, fearing the anger of the Zarqawi tribe. But we got through anyway, and the Zarqawi‘s younger brother didn‘t object.
(on camera): The sign here says, “the wedding of the martyr.” For the people here, Zarqawi is a hero who has gone to paradise.
(voice-over): Earlier, Zarqawi‘s wife and two sisters wouldn‘t talk.
But his brother-in-law did.
(on camera): We first met him two years ago after Zarqawi became a top terrorist leader. Then he proudly showed us Zarqawi‘s own copy of the Koran, with his signature. He told us Zarqawi was taking revenge for American terrorism.
Today he called Zarqawi the imam, the spiritual leader of all Muslims. But beyond his hometown, there was a different reaction. Jordanians also remember that Zarqawi killed about 50 of his own countrymen, most of them in three almost simultaneous bomb attacks on hotels in the capital last year.
“He deserved to die,” this man says, “especially after what he did in Amman.”
Back in his home tonight, it turned out the police warning of danger was correct. Children chased us away from the mourning tent with stones and rocks, chanting, God is great. Here at least Zarqawi is a hero.
Martin Fletcher, NBC News, Zarqa, Jordan.
COSBY: Well, word of al-Zarqawi‘s death spread like a firestorm today, especially all over the Internet. While some wanted more details of the al Qaeda leader‘s death, others wanted to look at Web sites like this. You‘re looking at images from just one radical jihadist Web site that is paying tribute to Zarqawi, glorifying him as a martyr while still spreading a message of hate.
LIVE & DIRECT tonight (INAUDIBLE) Steve Emerson.
Who are these people, Steve, behind these radical Web sites?
STEVE EMERSON, TERRORISM ANALYST: They are supporters of the jihad. They are enablers. They have created the virtual jihad. There are full-scale jihad travel agencies where you can sign up for the jihad, you can actually learn bomb-making, you can learn car detonations. They provide you with the credentials. They tell you where to go. They even provide your family with an annuity if you get killed.
And there have been literally hundreds of these Web sites, and they sometimes disappear very quickly because they know that—the operators know that U.S. government or other Western agencies are trying to shut them down or find out who is operating them.
COSBY: Yes. How much intel do they actually get off the Web site, Steve, you know, when the administration is looking and has their analysts?
EMERSON: Well, I can tell you this much, that the recent disclosure of the arrest in Canada of the 17 men came about as a result of the ability to penetrate some of the chat rooms that the jihadists were using in order to recruit others into the jihad that they are going to carry out in Canada.
And they were actually connected to those in London as well as three other countries, all connected by the Internet. They didn‘t know any of them. Each one did not know the other personally, but they all got introduced on the chat rooms. Some in Arabic, some in English. But they all ended up getting caught in part because of good U.S. and other Western law enforcement intelligence.
COSBY: You know, some of the some of the stuff we were looking at before, they were terror plans. I mean, you could see construction of a plane and other things. Here is some equipment, as you can see here, Steve. I mean, it‘s pretty scary some of the stuff.
EMERSON: You can look.
COSBY: On a regular day, what are some of the worst things you have seen?
EMERSON: Listen, you can find anything in terms of the terrorist manuals, instructions, videos, the killing. Actually, there—that‘s where they showed the killing of Nicholas Berg as well as Daniel Pearl, was on the Internet by the videos put up by Zarqawi.
There‘s everything in the world that you can find that would normally have been taught only in the laboratories of Afghanistan when the Taliban and bin Laden ruled, are now being taught on the Internet. These are virtual classes in terrorism, A to Z, Rita.
COSBY: How influential are these Web sites, Steve? How much power do they wield over al Qaeda?
EMERSON: Well, I would say that they wield power over young, impressionable Muslims who are infected with a certain type of alienation against the countries in which they are living, like those in Canada or in the United States or in Britain or in Bosnia. And so they are very, very effective in terms of propagandizing, recruiting, and ultimately proselytizing for purposes of carrying out jihad.
They serve the purpose of what used to be what the radical imam used to do in person in the mosque, now they do it over the Internet.
COSBY: All right, Steve, thank you very much.
And stick with us, if you could, because when we come back, with Zarqawi out of the way and Osama at the top of the list, who are still the most wanted terrorists in the world? We are going to look at who is still on the run.
COSBY: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may now be dead, but who are some of the other most wanted terrorists still on the run? Terrorism analyst Steve Emerson is back with us now.
Steve, now with Zarqawi dead, there are two others I understand that are sort of top of the list in Iraq. Who are they?
EMERSON: The two brothers are—served with Zarqawi as deputy chiefs, and they were considered to be successors for Zarqawi. And it‘s still unclear as to who is who is going to take over the organization. But they are certainly right now up at the highest level of U.S. intelligence gathering because they need to be taken out for them not to assume the new role of al Qaeda in Iraq.
COSBY: You know, is there an organized sort of succession to replace al—Zarqawi? Is there any sense of who—you know, the spiritual leader was supposed to be maybe the successor. But he was killed today, luckily.
EMERSON: You know, it‘s interesting, I don‘t think Zarqawi had his corporate structure the way bin Laden did. Bin Laden had a regular executive board. They had vice presidents. He had designated hitters. He had successors. I don‘t think Zarqawi had a line of succession. I think he operated really as a one-man operation in terms of running all of the operations. He didn‘t delegate. He had some deputies who stepped in sometimes. But I don‘t think there was that simple line of succession.
COSBY: You know, as we were looking at the four pictures of bin Laden, is his role change going to change at all? Is he going to kind of come back as the prominent guy now that Zarqawi is out of the picture, Steve?
EMERSON: Great question. I think he probably will. I think that they need to have a charismatic leader who is going to drive the jihad and provide that spiritual guidance. And Zarqawi was sort of the cheerleader as well as the guy and the spy master as well as the operations man. There is a void. And I think that they are going to look to bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri to start filling that void.
Now the only question is whether they want to fill it, because some people say that one reason that Zarqawi was tracked was because of the video that he made, and released a couple of weeks ago. So the more that bin Laden and Zawahiri appear on the Internet, the more likely they could get caught.
COSBY: Now speaking of responses, you know, and on the Internet, do you think we will hear from bin Laden? Don‘t you think there is going to be so much pressure on him now to make some sort of statement about Zawahiri (sic)?
EMERSON: Absolutely. I mean I think I would be surprised if we don‘t hear from bin Laden in the next 24 to 36 hours.
COSBY: And what do you think he‘ll say, Steve?
EMERSON: Oh, he is going to call this a great crime against the Muslim people, he is going to say that there are already brigades out to avenge the killing of Zarqawi. And he‘ll also say that the Muslim world has to remain resolute and continue the jihad.
It‘s more of the same of what he said in the past. But he‘ll probably create some type of new brigades to avenge the death of Zawahiri (sic).
COSBY: What about Mullah Omar too? You know, because we haven‘t heard a lot about him and a lot of people believe he carries a lot of clout down there.
EMERSON: Well, Mullah Omar has been surfacing of late because of the resurgence of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Now we haven‘t heard that much from him publicly because he doesn‘t use the Internet, he is not a jihad guy who goes out and uses the Internet to post his declarations. But he could fill a void operationally at least.
COSBY: You know, Steve, do you think we will ever get Mullah Omar or al-Zawahiri, UBL, and what do you see as sort of the future of al Qaeda?
EMERSON: You know, one of the questions I am always asked is why we can‘t get them. And the terrain is rugged. They are quiet. We almost got Zawahiri around six months ago or so when there were planes targeting his home—a place that he was about to have dinner in south Waziristan.
But they stay very quiet now. They are operationally secure. My feeling is we probably will not get bin Laden for several years.
COSBY: Sorry to hear that. But thank you very much, Steve. We really appreciate you being with us and giving us your perspective.
And everybody, when we come back, a major milestone for the U.S. armed forces. And the most important people on the war on terror.
COSBY: A big milestone tonight for the U.S. military. These are pictures coming in to us just a little bit ago of the USS Cole setting sail from its homeport Norfolk, Virginia. The ship is headed back to the Middle East for its first mission to the region since 2000 when, remember, 17 sailors were killed in an al Qaeda attack in the port of Yemen. None of the 320 sailors onboard today were on the ship during that attack.
And on a day where so much attention has been paid to terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, we cannot forget the real heroes in this war on terror who are fighting thousands of miles away from American soil.
There are still approximately 133,000 brave American men and women still fighting over in Iraq tonight, fighting the followers of al-Zarqawi and other branches of evil.
I think it‘s important on this day, no matter how you feel on the political spectrum, that you keep those people in your prayers as they fight a voracious enemy in a still very treacherous land.
And that does it for me on LIVE & DIRECT tonight everybody. I‘m Rita Cosby. “THE SITUATION” with Tucker starts right now.
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