Video: Zarqawi's plot?

msnbc.com and NBC News
updated 3/14/2005 8:37:28 AM ET 2005-03-14T13:37:28

An official at the Department of Homeland Security on Sunday downplayed a report in the new edition of Time magazine, cautioning that a story on plans by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to attack targets in the United States is alarmist in its assertions.

The Homeland Security official said that a person variously described as a “top aide” and a “lieutenant” to the terrorist mastermind is a “previously unknown source of questionable credibilty.”

The official, who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity, said the “top aide” described by Time had befriended his interrogators and was telling them a variety of stories and information of dubious credibility, including information about “soft targets”  including “movie theaters, restaurants and schools,” and a “lack of willing martyrs” available to carry out attacks.

The official also clarified the characterization of the information in an FBI advisory released last week. The advisory warned of possible attacks on railroads in Detroit and Los Angeles. The source at Homeland Security said there was some information passed on from the FBI to the Joint Terrorism Task Force offices in those two cities.

Previous deceptions
But the Homeland Security source said the advisory was not a “restricted bulletin,” as described in the story, but a release more typical of the streams of intelligence that the FBI gathers every day and then passes on to the appropriate law enforcement offices.

NBC News was told Sunday that the source of the railroad threat information has deceived the FBI on two previous occasions.

Referring to the last portion of the Time story regarding vulnerability of the United States' border with Mexico, the Homeland Security official did reinforce a statement from the Time story, attributed to intelligence agencies.

“We know al-Qaida continues to discuss amongst themselves different options for getting into the U.S.,” the source told NBC News. “But there is no evidence that any agents of al-Zarqawi have acted upon these plans or infiltrated the United States.” The story is in the edition of Time available at newsstands Monday.

NBC News' Michael Kosnar and MSNBC.com's Michael E. Ross contributed to this report.

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