The first time I heard Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's name was back in early 2002. I was in Amman, Jordan, meeting with members of Jordanian intelligence when a colonel there told my colleague and me that we should pay attention to this man.
Over the course of the next several months, I learned how al-Zarqawi was wanted for a plot to blow up Jordanian hotels on the eve of the millennium. Then a U.S. diplomat was assassinated in Amman and al-Zarqawi came into the frame for that.
There were so many rumors about him no one knew what was legit and what wasn't. Did he really have a fake leg as a result of a wound suffered in Afghanistan? As it turns out, no. Was he Palestinian? No, again.
And then suddenly, he was public enemy number one, starting with the bombings of the U.N. compound and Jordanian embassy in Baghdad in 2003.
CNN Correspondent Nic Robertson and I have hit a lot of places while reporting on him since that first mention in 2002: Zarqa, where his family was from; Amman, walking through the bombed-out ballrooms of hotels where his suicide bombers had slaughtered more than 50 people; in other towns in Jordan, where we talked to his friends and his enemies; on the Internet, where al-Zarqawi laid out his bloody vision of sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq and where finally he showed his face in a breathtakingly egotistical video just a few weeks ago.
The riddle was how this one-time troubled young Jordanian had vaulted to worldwide prominence as an uncompromising terrorist who cut the throat of an American hostage and put the videotape of the event on the Web. In his mind, perhaps, it all made sense. Not to me.
There were missed chances, when the U.S. military failed to get him, but even he knew it was just a matter of time before he would be caught or killed.
"Eyes are everywhere," he wrote in a 2004 letter to Osama bin Laden intercepted and published by the United States. Perhaps that's why he kept his face hidden for so long, until that videotape in April.
About three weeks ago, before I left for an assignment in Afghanistan, I updated al-Zarqawi's obit. It's just one of those things you do as a journalist in case someone like him is captured or killed. Wishful thinking, perhaps. Turns out it was good timing.