Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

The chief al-Qaida terrorist in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has acquired or is preparing a “dirty bomb” for an attack, according to U.S. officials citing recurrent intelligence reports.

For several months, intelligence agencies have been receiving the classified reports, which indicate Zarqawi has been storing the radiological explosive in Afghanistan, the Washington Times reported.

The officials say, however, analysts are unable to gauge the reliability of the information’s sources. The Times reported the intelligence is being questioned because analysts believe al-Qaida would already have used a nuclear device if it had one.

Last month, a German intelligence official said Zarqawi was believed to be planning a chemical-weapons attack on the European continent.

“We in Europe have been afraid that a big bang is coming sometime and that Zarqawi is planning it,” an official at Germany’s BND federal intelligence service told the April edition of the political monthly Cicero.

A summary of the report by Agence France-Presse indicated the Jordanian terrorist has been seeking arms components in Russia’s volatile north Caucasus region and in Georgia, but it was unclear if he had been successful.

Zarqawi and his militant group, the al-Qaida Organization in the Land of Two Rivers, already has claimed responsibility for scores of fatal attacks in Iraq since the U.S. military ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003. He’s been sentenced to death by Jordan for his role in the killing of an American diplomat in Amman in October 2002. The U.S. has put a $25 million bounty on his head.

Zarqawi has had several close encounters in recent weeks with Iraqi and U.S. forces.

The Times noted senior U.S. intelligence and security officials said in congressional testimony in February that a terrorist attack with weapons of mass destruction is likely.

CIA Director Porter J. Goss said such a terrorist strike “may be only a matter of time.”

A report by the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, made public March 30, pointed to “critical intelligence gaps with regard to each al Qaeda unconventional weapons capability — chemical, biological and nuclear.”

The commission said bin Laden told a Pakistani newspaper reporter in November 2001 that al-Qaida has both nuclear and chemical weapons. The CIA then “speculated” in a report that the terrorist group “probably had access to nuclear expertise and facilities and that there was a real possibility of the group developing a crude nuclear device.”

U.S. intelligence agencies think development of a radiological bomb is “well within al-Qaida’s capabilities,” the commission said.

In February, a classified bulletin to state and local security officials warned of intelligence reports indicating bin Laden had asked Zarqawi to focus future attacks on targets inside the United States.

Related story:

Report: Chem attack planned for Europe

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.