BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) Iraq's top al-Qaida terrorist, angered by a postelection lull in violence, ordered insurgents a month ago to intensify attacks and his lieutenants began plotting their deadly mission during a secret meeting in Syria, a top U.S. military official said Wednesday.
The Syrian meeting, possibly attended by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi himself, has led to one of the bloodiest periods since the U.S.-led invasion two years ago. Nearly 500 people have been killed including an Iraqi general mowed down in a driveby shooting Wednesday since the country's new Shiite-dominated government was announced April 28.
Several Shiite and Sunni Muslim clerics were among the victims, raising fears that sectarian tensions could ignite a civil war.
A chilling, rambling Internet audiotape purportedly by al-Zarqawi denounced Iraq's Shiites as U.S. collaborators and said killing them is justified.
''God ordered us to attack the infidels by all means ... even if armed infidels and unintended victims women and children are killed together,'' said the speaker purported to be al-Zarqawi. ''The priority is for jihad so anything that slows down jihad should be overcome.'' The tape could not immediately be authenticated.