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Reporter gets inside look at insurgency

Attack videos put journalist at personal, professional risk

From Brent Sadler

A fiery explosion rocks bystanders in this video shot by militants.
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Terror videotapes put a reporter in a tough spot.

Group in Iraq threatens to kill terror suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
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• Interactive: Sectarian divide
Acts of terror

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Islamic insurgent groups in Iraq are taking an unexpected step to give an inside view of their terror attacks on Westerners by sharing video not only of the assaults, but also of the planning behind them.

"This video is straight from the mujahedeen," journalist Michael Ware said as he viewed a tape at a hotel in Baghdad. "This is the Blackwater killings. They talk about planning it. I can't believe this."

Ware, an Australian reporter working for TIME magazine, is walking a professional knife-edge, an unlikely go-between for anti-Western militants and the media.

"Something in the last few months has got them filming the most intimate, graphic attacks -- like up-close and personal," Ware said.

"It's like they are embedding combat camera units, who are there on the front line with them, knowing they are going to have propaganda value in time to come."

The other purpose for the videotapes, Ware said, is to terrorize Westerners.

"They're trying to tell the Western public: 'This is what your boys are dying for, this is what they are up against,' " he said. "They are letting us know that, 'We can kill your boys, and we are not going away.' "

As he watched a tape that purports to be the attack that killed four employees of Blackwater Security Consulting in Fallujah in late March, Ware said, "They've been filming this stuff from the beginning."

According to eyewitnesses at the time, a group of men, their faces covered by headscarves, split into two groups and threw hand grenades into the two vehicles that carried the contractors. As the vehicles were engulfed with flames, the assailants sprayed them with small arms fire, the witnesses said.

A mob then dragged the four civilians' mutilated bodies through the streets and hung two of them from a bridge over the Euphrates River as people cheered.

U.S. military officials who investigated the attack suspected it was planned because the normally busy city streets were empty and the shops closed at the time of the assault.

But they may not have known just how carefully the assault was planned.

On the insurgent video, a hooded man claiming to represent a group called the Islamic Army in Iraq shows how a satellite image was used to map out the attack route, circling the point of contact.

"This is clearly a military map of some sort," Ware said while watching the video. "That's an e-mail, and that's a Blackwater letterhead," he said. "It's got the names of the recipients, the date.' "

Also shown on the videotape are the possessions of the dead contractors.

Frightening access to world of insurgents

Ware's life changed when he received a tape of a Pakistani hostage after more than a year of reporting on the insurgency.

"Since they gave me the hostage tape 10 days ago -- the first Westerner to get a hostage tape -- it's like that was them opening up," he said. "And in the 10 days that's followed, I've been getting access that's quite frightening. And in the last three days, I've received seven new tapes from different parts of the resistance -- Islamic guerillas, Iraqi nationalists and independents."

TIME reporter Michael Ware: "This is far more serious, organized, committed, than many of us realized."

One tape contains what a group called Unity and Jihad, led by most-wanted terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claims is a start-to-finish attack videotape.

"They have reached a level of organization and sophistication that we have not seen previously," Ware said. "They have become incredibly savvy."

What's said to be an al-Zarqawi camera captures the sequence of a suicide bomber making his videotaped living will, bidding farewell to fellow insurgents and then boarding a tanker that is wired to 3.5 tons of explosives. The truck drives off and later a huge explosion is seen.

Another recorded incident backs up al-Zarqawi's claim of responsibility for the assassination of Izzedine Salam, chairman of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, on June 14.

That video, TIME magazine reports, shows the convoy carrying the official entering Baghdad and then a huge explosion. While other witnesses turn their backs to the force and heat of the car bomb blast, the cameraman zooms in to capture the horror of the moment.

Ware said the videotapes shed light on the culture and the mindset of the insurgent groups. And he knows he's treading on dangerous ground.

"I certainly go out there and expose myself. I've been to the safe houses. I surrender myself to their control. I've sat in living rooms face-to-face with these men," he said.

"Maybe I am too close to all of this. I've been this close, and it terrifies me. It terrifies me on a personal level and it terrifies me in terms of what we are up against. This is far more serious, far more organized, committed, than many of us realized."

Ware denies he's being used by terror groups and said he filters what he learns, regardless of the source.

This explosion appears on one of the tapes passed to Ware.

''This kind of thing is never easy or comfortable," he said. "It doesn't sit well with you as a human being on many levels. But that's what covering a war is like: It has two sides. I feel an obligation to discover as much as I can about both sides. I feel that's what we're here to do."

Still, there are things Ware said he would not do. He said he would not do anything that could be seen as promoting or encouraging kidnappings or attacks. And he said he would not knowingly become an eyewitness to such incidents.

"I think if you had forewarning and you went to join them, I think that would be be something very close to crossing the line.

He said just getting a hostage videotape brought him close to that line.

"Giving some poor fellow three days to live -- that made me a participant," Ware said. "I made it very clear after that: I want nothing more to do with any hostage tapes. Any that you give me will not see the light of day."

Ware also is concerned that he may be getting too close to the insurgents and that one day they may decide to shoot the man who helps them get their message out.

"I worry about that every waking moment and every sleeping dream," he said. "It terrifies me. Terrifies me on a personal level and it terrifies me in terms of what we are up against."

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