Al-Qaida says letter from its No.2 leader to al-Zarqawi is a U.S. fake

A purported al-Qaida web posting on Thursday said the United States had fabricated a letter in which the group's No. 2 allegedly wrote to its leader in Iraq asking for money and laying out the terrorist group's plans for the Middle East.

"We in al-Qaida declare that there is no truth to these claims, and they are baseless, except in the imagination of the politicians of the Black (White) House," according to the statement on a Web site known as a clearing house for al-Qaida material.

The statement was signed Abu Maysara, who claims to be spokesman for al-Qaida in Iraq. It could not be authenticated.

"We call on Muslims not to pay attention to this cheap propaganda and to remember that the media will always be the infidels' sole weapon until the end of the battle," the statement said.

U.S. officials said the letter to al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, first disclosed by the Pentagon on Friday and released in full on Tuesday, was acquired during American operations in Iraq and dated July 9.

In the letter, taking up 13 typed pages in its English translation, al-Qaida deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri recommended a four-stage expansion of the war that would take the fighting to neighboring Muslim countries.

"It has always been my belief that the victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established ... in the heart of the Islamic world," al-Zawahri wrote.

The letter laid out his long-term plan: the expulsion of American troops from Iraq, the establishment an Islamic authority and the expansion of the war to Iraq's secular neighbors, including Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

The final stage, al-Zawahri wrote, would be a clash with Israel, which he said was established to challenge "any new Islamic entity."

The letter, translated by the U.S. government, also asked al-Zarqawi to provide financial support and urged him to avoid bombings mosques, slaughtering hostages to avoid alienating the masses, AP reported. V.A.