Monday, March 14, 2005

Qaeda Ally May Target U.S. Theaters, Schools -Report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda's chief ally in Iraq (news - web sites), may be planning attacks on "soft targets" in the United States including movie theaters, restaurants and schools, Time magazine reported on Sunday.

White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley (news - web sites) would not discuss the specific warning, which Time said was circulated among U.S. security agencies last week in a restricted bulletin.

But he said the administration was concerned about reports -- "which we think are very credible" -- that Zarqawi is working more closely with Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s al Qaeda organization.

Hadley said movie theaters, restaurants and schools "are the kinds of targets we know that al Qaeda has traditionally been concerned about."

"But we, at this point sitting here, do not have evidence of a specific operation by Zarqawi's organization targeting those kinds of targets. We just don't have that kind of information at this point," Hadley told CNN's "Late Edition."

The warning comes two weeks after President Bush (news - web sites), in a rare public mention of the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said stopping bin Laden from a new attack on U.S. soil was "the greatest challenge of our day."

Time said the bulletin was based on the interrogation of a member of Zarqawi's organization.

It cited Zarqawi's belief that "if an individual has enough money, he can bribe his way into the U.S.," by obtaining a visa to Honduras and then traveling across Mexico and the southern U.S. border.

But the magazine quoted intelligence agencies as saying there is no evidence that Zarqawi's agents have infiltrated the United States.

Bin Laden has eluded U.S. efforts to hunt him down, and he occasionally surfaces in a video or audiotape to show followers he is still alive. U.S. intelligence agencies believe he is hiding in the border region between Afghanistan (news - web sites) and Pakistan.

Zarqawi, blamed for orchestrating insurgent attacks against U.S. forces and Iraqis, has become the most hunted man in Iraq. In December, an audiotape message purportedly from bin Laden formally named Zarqawi as the head of al Qaeda in Iraq.
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