SAMARRA, March 6: Iraqi commandos and US soldiers On Sunday stepped up operations in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in search for top wanted militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a senior Iraqi security official said.

"We have information that Zarqawi may be hiding in Samarra or this region and this operation is aimed at checking that out," the officer told AFP on condition of anonymity in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the CNN television network showed what it said were fresh photos of the Jordanian born Zarqawi, who appeared bearded and smiling.

In December, Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden named Zarqawi "emir" of the terror network in Iraq. He is blamed for some of the worst attacks and hostage killings in the country. The US has placed a 25 million dollar bounty on both men.

The official said 66 suspects have been arrested in the operation, which is expected to last a week with the goal of rounding up 250 suspects working for seven armed groups in the area.

On the ground all entrances leading to Samarra were sealed.-AFP

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