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Birthday Gift To Wanted Terrorist

The United States has selected an interesting birthday gift for one of its most wanted terrorists — upping the reward for his arrest or capture.

The State Department's Rewards for Justice program will now pay up $25 million for information leading to the capture of Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, a man the department says has "a long-standing connection to senior al-Qaeda leadership."

The department claims Zarqawi "appears to be highly regarded among al-Qaida and a close associate of Osama Bin Laden and Saif Al-Adel."

Zarqawi joins three other terrorists with rewards of $25 million on their heads. The others are Bin Laden, the al Qaeda founder and leader; Al-Adel, one of its top operatives; and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's chief lieutenant.

Twenty-two other people are on the rewards program list, but $5 million will be paid out in their cases.

A Jordanian, Zarqawi turned 37 on Thursday. His State Department wanted poster describes him as having an olive complexion, dark hair and eyes and a Jordanian passport. He uses the alias Ahmad Fadil Al-Khalailah.

"Individuals providing information may be eligible for a reward, protection of their identities, and relocation with their families," the department notes. In the past seven years, the Rewards for Justice program has paid out more than $49 million in 29 cases.

U.S. officials have accused Zarqawi of trying to train terrorists in the use of poison for possible attacks in Europe, running a terrorist haven in northern Iraq an area outside Saddam's control before the war and organizing an attack that killed an American aid executive in Jordan last year.

President Bush cited him to back up his claim of al Qaeda ties to Saddam Hussein, claiming the operative was in Baghdad last year.

More recently, U.S. officials have said intelligence suggests that Zarqawi is one of several high-ranking al Qaeda figures hiding In Iran, or in Iraq coordinating attacks against U.S. troops. In April, an operative linked to Zarqawi was arrested in Iraq.