New images are the first clear pictures of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- the most dangerous and most wanted man in Iraq -- in several years, U.S. officials say.
The images, obtained by ABC News, show a well-groomed figure sitting on the floor in a well-lit room, talking with other men.
Sources said the pictures were taken from a video and were taken "in the November time frame." The sources would not say how U.S. officials acquired them.
"He's not in a tent, he's not in a cave," said Richard Clarke, a former antiterrorism official and an ABC News consultant. "He appears to be in a very relaxed, laughing kind of mood -- not anxious, not looking like a man on the run."
The figure identified as Zarqawi looks heavier than in the pictures that had been distributed to U.S. troops searching for him.
"That's maybe why they didn't recognize him," he said, alluding to reports that Zarqawi had been caught in a dragnet in Fallujah, but released because no one realized who he was.
The identity of the other men in the photos is not known, the sources said. It's also not clear what the men were doing when the pictures were taken.
"Although they're laughing, it could very well be a session where he is talking to people who will be quote, martyrs, unquote -- people who would/will become suicide bombers," Clarke said.
$25 Million Bounty
U.S. officials believe Zarqawi, who is the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, is behind the bombings that have killed scores of U.S. and Iraqi troops and Iraqi civilians. CIA officials have said they are reasonably certain he is the hooded figure who beheaded American engineer Eugene Armstrong on a videotape last year.
The United States has a bounty of up to $25 million on Zarqawi, the same amount it offered for the capture of Saddam Hussein.
It's not clear how closely Zarqawi has been working with Osama bin Laden. Last year, bin Laden praised Zarqawi's attacks in Iraq. And late last month, U.S. intelligence officials revealed they had intercepted a message from bin Laden urging Zarqawi to carry out attacks in the United States.
Intelligence analysts likely examined the photos for clues about where Zarqawi was a few months ago, Clarke said. But that may not be much help in finding him now.
Military officials told ABC News they feel they're "close" to capturing Zarqawi -- but they've been close before, only to miss him by a matter of minutes.