Saturday, October 15, 2005

US cannot explain suspicious Zawahri letter passage


US cannot explain suspicious Zawahri letter passage

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence officials who released a letter purporting to be from an al Qaeda leader to Iraq insurgency leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi this week said on Friday they could not account for a passage that has raised doubts about the document's authenticity.

The July 9 dated letter, which U.S. officials say was written by al Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri, appears near its close to urge the Iraq insurgent leader to send greetings to himself if visiting the Iraqi city of Falluja.

"My greetings to all the loved ones and please give me news of Karem and the rest of the folks I know," says an unedited English translation posted at, the office Web site of U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte.

"And especially, by God, if by chance you're going to Falluja, send greetings to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," it states.

Zarqawi is the Jordanian-born leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, the most prominent segment of the deadly Iraq insurgency. His organisation has said the letter is a fabrication.

A spokesman for Negroponte, who is the U.S. director of national intelligence, or DNI, acknowledged the greetings passage was confusing but said the intelligence community was confident the letter was addressed to Zarqawi by Zawahri.

"We don't know what to make of it (the passage). It's unclear," the Negroponte spokesman said.

"But we are absolutely confident that it was intended for Mr. Zarqawi, based on a review by multiple agencies over a protracted period of time."

U.S. officials have refused to disclose details of where, when or how authorities came by the letter, or what methods have been used to determine its authenticity.

Some experts contend the strange passage undermines the letter's credibility.

"This would appear to be conclusive evidence that the DNI was mistaken, and that the letter was written to someone other than Zarqawi," Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists said on on Friday in his e-mail intelligence newsletter, "Secrecy News."

Aftergood cited an article in the online Slate magazine that called attention to the passage as well as the fact the letter was signed with the name, Abu Muhammad.

Experts have already said the letter depicts Zawahri as making unrealistic admissions involving al Qaeda's need for money, the Pakistan army's hunt for al Qaeda leaders and the May capture of al Qaeda member Abu Faraj al Liby.

The greetings passage gained little noticed from initial news coverage of the letter's release, which came days before this weekend's constitutional referendum in Iraq.

News coverage concentrated instead on language that suggested rifts between al Qaeda militants, including Zawahri's advice that insurgents avoid the unpopular killing of civilians and begin seeking public support for an Islamic state.