Bush said that intelligence showed that in January 2005, bin Laden tasked Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, his senior operative in Iraq, to set up the cell to use Iraq as a staging ground for attacks in the United States. Al-Zarqawi was killed in Iraq in June 2006 by a U.S. airstrike.
Bush, who is battling Democrats in Congress over spending for the unpopular war in Iraq, also said that in the spring of 2005, bin Laden instructed Hamza Rabia, a senior operative, to brief al-Zarqawi on an al-Qaida plan to attack sites outside Iraq. Around the same time, Abu Fajah al-Libi, a senior al-Qaida manager, suggested that bin Laden send Rabia to Iraq to help al-Zarqawi plan the external operations, he said. It is unclear whether Rabia went to Iraq.
Bush said that another suspected al-Qaida operative, Ali Salih al- Mari, was trained in Afghanistan and dispatched to the United States before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
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