Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Al-Qaeda operative whose message inviting his colleagues to step up operations in Iraq was posted here yesterday, seems to behind at least three major car bombing attacks against Americans and Italians in Iraq. From the New York Times:
Intelligence information, including some gathered in recent weeks, has provided “mounting evidence” to suggest that Mr. Zarqawi was involved in the bombings, including the attacks in August on a Shiite mosque in Najaf and the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, and the attack in November on an Italian police headquarters.
One official cautioned that the evidence stopped short of firm proof about involvement by Mr. Zarqawi. But the official said the intelligence had added significantly to concern about Mr. Zarqawi, who one official said was now “really viewed as the most adept terrorist operative in Iraq, in terms of foreigners planning terrorist activities.” . . .
The largest of the three attacks that American officials now say may be linked to Mr. Zarqawi was the Aug. 29 explosion outside a mosque in Najaf, a city holy to Shiite Muslims, which killed more than 85 people, including Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, one of Iraq’s most important Shiite leaders.
The raid on the safe house in Baghdad used by associates of Mr. Zarqawi was said by one American official to have provided valuable new evidence. The items seized included a compact disc that contained the 17-page proposal to senior leaders of Al Qaeda as well as a seven-pound block of cyanide salt, which the officials said could have spread cyanide gas within an enclosed area.
“It’s likely that he was involved in at least the three bombings,” an American official said of Mr. Zarqawi. The car bomb attacks were three of the most deadly in Iraq since the American invasion last March. Besides the Najaf attack, they included the Aug. 19 bombing of the United Nations headquarters, which killed 23 people, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the top United Nations envoy in Iraq; and the Nov. 12 attack on the headquarters of Italy’s paramilitary police in Nasiriya, which killed more than 30 people, including 19 Italians.
Last fall, American military, intelligence and law enforcement officials said they did not know whether the August bombings were part of a coordinated campaign. At the time, they said they were wrestling with several competing theories about who might be behind them, including the possibility that they were carried out by former members of the Iraqi military or paramilitary forces.
Investigators said at the time that they had not seen a common signature in the bombings, but that the attack at the United Nations headquarters and another on the Jordanian Embassy had used vehicles packed with explosives drawn from old Iraqi military stocks. American officials have not said publicly what kinds of explosives were used in the attacks in Najaf and Nasiriya.
On Monday, senior American officials were careful to describe Mr. Zarqawi as “an associate” of Al Qaeda rather than a member. American military officials say that at least 90 percent of the attacks on United States troops are thought to have been carried out by Iraqi Sunnis opposed to the occupation.