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Qaeda seen enlisting Zarqawi

WASHINGTON -- New intelligence indicates that Osama bin Laden is enlisting Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, his top operative in Iraq, to plan potential attacks on the United States, US officials said yesterday.

Zarqawi has been involved in attacks in the Middle East but has not been known to have plotted an attack on US soil.

The Homeland Security Department issued a classified bulletin to officials over the weekend about the intelligence, which spokesman Brian Roehrkasse described as ''credible but not specific." The intelligence was obtained over the past several weeks, officials said.

The US has no immediate plans to raise its national alert level, Roehrkasse said. However, the intelligence ''reiterates the desire by Al Qaeda and its associates to target the homeland," he said.

Bin Laden was in contact with Zarqawi within the past two months in an effort to enlist him in attacks, a US official said on the condition of anonymity.

Zarqawi is blamed for scores of attacks in Iraq and pledged allegiance to bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network last year. Yet he has had differences with bin Laden and his efforts are considered somewhat distinct from central Al Qaeda operations.

Zarqawi has a $25 million US bounty on his head and is believed to have orchestrated car bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, and beheadings in Iraq.

In October, he made a first-ever pledge of loyalty to bin Laden, by posting a message on a website carrying militant Islamic content. At the time, US officials believed Zarqawi was hoping to adopt bin Laden's broad objective to attack the United States.

Bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, is thought to communicate with his deputies by courier, taped messages, and other means.

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