Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Al-Zarqawi's U.S. agent?

Intelligence officials say search is on for an an American citizen with al-Qaida connections who is also aligned with the insurgency leader
BY KNUT ROYCE
SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
NEWSDAY


WASHINGTON -- Counterterrorism officials are trying to learn the identity of an apparently important aide to Iraq's most violent insurgent leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is referred to only as "The American" in a laptop computer belonging to Zarqawi that was seized by U.S. troops in February.

The Pentagon disclosed this week that American special forces almost captured Zarqawi near the city of Ramadi on Feb. 20, but came away instead with a valuable consolation prize - his laptop. In it they found a trove of intelligence, which intelligence officials are still analyzing.

"They [intelligence analysts] still don't know who he ['the American'] is," said a counterterrorism source who has been briefed about the contents of the computer's hard drive. "Zarqawi kept him compartmented from the rest of his organization. Some think he might be around in Mexico or some place."

But a U.S. intelligence official said he thinks "the American" may already be in U.S. custody. He said that a senior associate of Zarqawi, who holds dual Jordanian and U.S. citizenship, was arrested by U.S. troops inside Iraq late last year. "If it's this man already in the bag, then there's no need to panic," the official said.

The senior associate's seizure was confirmed earlier this month by the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary for detainee affairs, Matthew Waxman. Neither Waxman nor other defense officials would provide the man's name, but they said he was born in Kuwait of Jordanian parents, is a naturalized U.S. citizen and has lived in America for about 20 years.

The counterterrorism source, a former top CIA official, said that the laptop also revealed that Zarqawi is actively recruiting most of his suicide bombers from Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

"He was doing that in Europe, within the Muslim communities, but the European countries are now watching closely," he said. "There are hundreds and hundreds of Saudis who are trying to be recruited for suicide missions. The Saudis are trying to stop them, but they can't get them all. And Zarqawi's got his people now in Yemen recruiting
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