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Officials: Bin Laden message to al-Zarqawi intercepted

Classified bulletin warns of 'nonspecific' al Qaeda threat to U.S.

From Jeanne Meserve
CNN


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. intelligence has intercepted a communication from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq that "reiterates the desire by al Qaeda to target the homeland," U.S. officials have said.

A classified bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security, issued Friday, warns state homeland security advisers and other authorities of "credible but nonspecific threat information" reaffirming al Qaeda's intent to strike the United States.

According to two government officials, the information was picked up recently from an intercepted communication believed to have been from bin Laden to al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born terrorist whose followers are blamed for some of the bloodiest attacks in the war in Iraq.

But officials stressed Monday that there is nothing specific in the intelligence to indicate when, where or how any attack might be carried out. One called the information "vague" and nothing "unique."

One government official told CNN the message indicated a desire for al-Zarqawi to expand operations outside Iraq. It did not mention the United States specifically, but analysts have drawn that inference from the communication.

In addition, one official cautioned that lines of communication can be "polluted." In other words, although a communications channel may once have been used exclusively by two people, others may begin to use it as well.

Outgoing Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson said federal authorities were not ready "to shake up America on this" by raising the nation's terror alert level above its current status of yellow, or elevated.

"Whenever we get this kind of intelligence, we regularly share that with our homeland security advisers in every state so they have the same information we have," Hutchinson said. "But whenever it is nonspecific, that means it is difficult to mount an operational response. And so we share the information -- we don't raise the threat level."

Hutchinson disclosed no details about the information or how it came into the hands of U.S. authorities.

But he told CNN, "It reminds us that al Qaeda is serious about the United States, and because they're concentrating in other arenas in the world does not mean they've diminished their desire to attack the United States."

Another U.S. official noted that for al Qaeda, striking the United States is "still the brass ring."

Al-Zarqawi heads an insurgent group believed responsible for numerous car bombings and beheadings throughout Iraq. Last year, he declared his allegiance to al Qaeda and renamed his group from Unification and Jihad to al Qaeda in Iraq.

Acts attributed to his group were praised in an audio tape believed to be from bin Laden. That tape was released December 27. (Full story)

The United States has placed $25 million bounties each on al-Zarqawi and bin Laden.

In January, an audiotaped statement attributed to al-Zarqawi declared Iraq's elections a "big American lie." (Full story)

CNN's Kelli Arena, Mike Mount and Pam Benson contributed to this report.


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