Mon, Jul 23, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Al-Qaeda's new assets may threaten US, officials say

AFP , WASHINGTON

Al-Qaeda in Iraq already has its hands full, but US intelligence officials say the militant group's mentors in Pakistan now want to use its formidable resources for attacks on the US.

The war in Iraq has transformed the al-Qaeda affiliate into a battle-hardened organization with piles of money, sophisticated recruiting networks and some of the world's most experienced and innovative bomb makers, officials and analysts say.

A US intelligence estimate released this week said al-Qaeda "core," the parent organization led by Osama bin Laden, "will seek to leverage" those capabilities for attacks on the US.

It offered no evidence that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is actively involved in such plots, however, and intelligence and military officials say most of its resources are currently tied down in Iraq.

But Ted Gistaro, the assessment's author, told reporters this week that al-Qaeda typically tries to tap into its affiliates' networks, recruitment pool and financial resources.

"Certainly when it comes to finances, we've seen al-Qaeda pull benefit from the relationship with AQI," he said. "And the concern is: what other parts of AQI might al-Qaeda core try to leverage or siphon off to bolster its own capabilities?"

Analyst say the concern raised in the assessment is new, and may reflect undisclosed intelligence of messages from al-Qaeda core urging AQI to carry out operations in Europe or the US.

In late April, the Pentagon revealed it had captured a senior al-Qaeda operative, Abd al Hadi al-Iraqi, as he was trying to reach Iraq to manage al-Qaeda operations and possibly plot attacks in the West.

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