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Afghan minister warns of attacks

Says Al Qaeda is regrouping

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network is regrouping and preparing to bring Iraq-style bloodshed to Afghanistan, the defense minister said yesterday, warning that his country may face intense violence ahead of key legislative elections this fall.

Recent intelligence indicates that the terrorist organization slipped about a half-dozen Arab agents into Afghanistan over the past three weeks, including two who killed themselves in suicide bombings against a packed mosque and a convoy of US troops, Defense Minister Rahim Wardak said.

''It looks like there has been a regrouping of Al Qaeda and they may have changed their tactics not only to concentrate on Iraq, but also on Afghanistan," Wardak said in an interview over tea at his office next to the heavily guarded presidential compound.

''We do believe that we will have three months of very tough times," Wardak said. ''The enemies of this nation will do everything they can to disrupt the [Sept. 18 parliamentary] elections."

Wardak made the comments a day after the outgoing US ambassador warned at a Kabul news conference that militants were likely to try to disrupt the legislative balloting.

''As we get closer to the elections, they are likely to intensify their efforts to . . . derail the elections," said Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been tapped to be the top US diplomat in Iraq.

In a separate development yesterday, Al Qaeda's number two leader released a new video, broadcast on Al-Jazeera television, in which he disparaged the US concept of reform and said armed jihad is the only way to bring change in the Arab world.

The message by Ayman al- Zawahri -- his first video since February -- seemed to be an attempt by Al Qaeda network to co-opt the rising wave of reform movements in the Middle East.

''The removal of the Crusader and Jewish invaders won't occur by peaceful demonstrations," he said in a brief clip shown on the Arabic-language satellite network. ''Reform and expelling the invaders from the countries of Islam won't happen except through fighting for God's sake."

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