WASHINGTON March 9:
Al-Qaida operatives are planning to strike at U.S. and allied forces taking part in a war in Iraq, according to information acquired by American
intelligence agencies, counterterrorism officials said. The operatives are subordinates of Abu Musab Zarqawi, whom CIA officials describe as a senior
associate of Osama bin Laden. Some are in Baghdad; others are elsewhere in Iraq, the counterterrorism officials said Saturday, speaking on condition
The intelligence does not suggest any kind of coordination between the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaida operatives;
instead officials believe the terrorists are looking to capitalize on the chaos created by any military conflict to strike at American and allied
A CIA report, passed to senior government officials last week, warned of the potential strikes. The counterterrorism officials said operatives may be
planning to use explosives or toxins to conduct the attack. The new information comes against a murky backdrop regarding whether Iraq supports
al-Qaida, or to what extent there are ties. However, intelligence officials have generally agreed they have nothing to document that Saddam Hussein
had a hand in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks or that Saddam and Osama bin Laden are coordinating terrorist operations.
At the center of U.S. allegations that there are links between Iraq and the terrorist group is Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist operative, and some of
According to U.S. officials, Zarqawi was in Baghdad last summer, presumably with the knowledge of Iraqi officials. Some of his people are still there.
Zarqawi is also linked to an Islamic extremist group in northern Iraq, Ansar al-Islam, that operates in a region outside of Saddam's control.
An agent from Iraq's government is working for Ansar, Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a Feb. 5 presentation to the U.N. Security Council.
Powell said this agent had offered safe haven to some al-Qaida operatives in the region. But Powell omitted an important point: U.S. officials later
acknowledged they don't know what this Iraqi operative is doing with Ansar al-Islam, and they do not know whether Ansar is aware he works for the
Iraqi government. While the agent could be openly representing Saddam's government, he also could be spying on the group for Saddam's security
services, officials said. According to intelligence officials, Zarqawi believes he is operating independently of al-Qaida's chain of command. But
they say while he manages his own network of followers, he relies on al-Qaida money and logistical support, making him in effect if not in reality a
lieutenant of bin Laden.
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