WASHINGTON – Information seized from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's (search) laptop computer show that the Jordanian terrorist has been expanding his jihad network outside Iraq and may be emerging as Al Qaeda's (search) preeminent global military commander, The New York Post reported Wednesday.
But a U.S. official told FOX News that while Zarqawi's movement extends beyond Iraq, the official cast doubt on reports such as those in the Post that the terrorist has now eclipsed Usama bin Laden (search) in stature within Al Qaeda.
This official pointed out that the Zarqawi network has struck in Jordan, for example, where Zarqawi associates were blamed for the 2002 assassination of U.S. Agency for International Development officer Lawrence Foley. But sources point out that as his near capture in February illustrates, Zarqawi has got his hands full already in Iraq. Yes, Zarqawi's organization has gone outside Iraq before but the U.S. official would not characterize Zarqawi as now emerging as Al Qaeda's new leader.
U.S. intelligence officials who were briefed on data gleaned from a computer taken after a Feb. 20 U.S. Special Forces ambush in Iraq — in which Zarqawi narrowly escaped — told the Post that they have discovered shocking new details about the growing threat to U.S. and Western interests posed by Zarqawi, who they say is rapidly eclipsing bin Laden in importance.
"He's becoming the new bin Laden. He's the man out there carrying out attacks on Americans every day while bin Laden, who is heavily pressured and having difficulty communicating on a regular basis, is in the shadows and becoming more of a symbolic figure," former CIA counterterrorism director Vincent Cannistraro (search) told the Post.
Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz (search) added, "Zarqawi is more visible and available than bin Laden right now and seems to be the man most willing to take the fight to the Americans."
Originally considered a rival of bin Laden, Zarqawi last year pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda and changed the name of his organization to Al Qaeda in Iraq (search).
The data in his computer reveals Zarqawi is directing scores of fanatics from Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states who volunteered for "martyrdom" missions in Iraq and other countries, sources said.
"The information has given us new insight into the scope of his operations outside of Iraq that we did not know about previously," a U.S. intelligence official familiar with the analysis told the Post.
The official said new secret counterterror operations have been launched by the CIA and intelligence services of other countries as a result of information in his laptop.
Sources said the computer files also yielded recent communications with al Qaeda leaders, including a message from bin Laden's No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri (search), in which he urged Zarqawi to expand his operations outside Iraq to include attacks on Americans in the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security (search) released details of that message in a bulletin to law enforcement agencies last month.
FOX News' Bret Baier and Nick Simeone and The New York Post's Niles Lathem contributed to this report.