- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 1999

President Clinton and several high-ranking government officials yesterday sought to reassure Americans that everything possible was being done to prevent terrorist attacks during the New Year's holidays.
Their concern which has led to tightened security at U.S. airports and government buildings comes as federal authorities investigate a suspected link between an Algerian man arrested last week in Washington state and a terrorism organization headed by Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden.
U.S. intelligence reports tie the man, Ahmed Ressam, to other suspected terrorists in Montreal that investigators fear are planning attacks in Washington, D.C., Seattle and New York, according to NBC News.
Federal officials have already asked police in those three cities to be especially on guard for suspected terrorists. Intelligence sources have intercepted communications from the suspected terrorists that they are "making deliveries to the Washington area," NBC said.
The network's report comes a day after D.C. police put out an alert to search for a blue van with Texas plates after a citizen reported suspicious activity.
Meanwhile in Washington state, Mr. Ressam, 32, who was arrested Dec. 14 after crossing the Canadian border, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle on charges of trying to smuggle nitroglycerin and other bomb-making material into the United States.
The FBI continues to investigate reports that at least three other persons connected to Mr. Ressam may also have entered the United States.
U.S. intelligence officials have said bin Laden, a Saudi exile accused in the bombing last year of two U.S. embassies in Africa, issued Islamic calls to action known as "fatwas" in Arabic against the United States. Suspected terrorists arrested in Jordan last week also have been linked to bin Laden's network.
"We have reliable information that bin Laden is in frequent contact with terrorists and his supporters in various parts of the world and the group indeed uses modern communications," State Department spokesman James Foley said yesterday.
Taleban officials had said Tuesday the suspected terrorist did not have access to telephones or fax machines.
Mr. Foley also criticized the Taleban, the extremist Muslim group that now rules Afghanistan, for harboring bin Laden and reissued a threat of U.S. retaliation if those associated with his terrorist network are found to be responsible for terrorist activities aimed at Americans.
"If the bin Laden organization commits terrorists acts, we will hold the Taleban responsible … and they will face serious consequences," he said.
U.S. authorities have not ruled out a connection between splinter groups and bin Laden, especially since the capture last week of 13 Jordanians, who reportedly were planning terrorists attacks. The militant Islamic group, Hamas, notorious for terrorist attacks, once had offices in Jordan.
Mr. Clinton said the government was making "extraordinary efforts" to guard against potential terrorist threats, and advised Americans to "go about their holidays and enjoy themselves and make the most of it." But he also warned that U.S. citizens should "be aware of their circumstances, and if they see anything suspicious to report it immediately."
Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the Justice Department was doing everything in its power to "prevent any attacks from occurring and to bring to justice those people responsible for planning any such attacks."
Mr. Holder noted that Mr. Ressam's arrest and those of others in Jordan had created "a heightened risk that there may be individuals planning attacks abroad and within the United States during the holiday season," but he said federal authorities had no "specific information about particular targets."
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said U.S. intelligence agencies were "cooperating worldwide with their counterparts … to make sure that we can deter and detect and discourage any attempts on American lives anywhere in the world."
Potential terrorist threats over the holidays have been of recent concern to several federal agencies, although Mr. Holder noted during a press conference yesterday that the government has no specific information on any particular U.S. targets or terrorist groups that might be involved.
FBI Assistant Director Dale Watson, who heads the bureau's counterterrorism division and attended the press conference with Mr. Holder, said U.S. authorities are aware of bin Laden's calls to action against the United States but the FBI was "working very hard with our intelligence partners to investigate any threat … that targets Americans."
Mr. Watson said the FBI was taking every threat seriously and that each results in a follow-up investigation. "And as this event approaches, I think there is a heightened awareness," he said.
Mr. Holder said the Justice Department wants the American people to be kept informed "and as we have new information which we are able to share, we will make sure that the public is informed.
"We will work with state and local authorities to assess the threat level in each community and to provide updates to our state and local partners," he said. "We ask the American people to be vigilant during this period, especially in cities where large millennium or religious activities are planned."
Meanwhile, federal authorities yesterday confirmed that Mr. Ressam has been linked by French authorities to a series of deadly terrorist attacks in France in 1996. The New York Times reported yesterday that he was under investigation by French anti-terrorist officials for his connections to a loosely organized group of Islamic radicals suspected of a series of attacks on supermarkets, armored security vehicles and banks in northern France in 1996.
The attacks killed one bystander and several Islamic radicals. One unidentified senior French official told the newspaper that Mr. Ressam had links to Fateh Kamel, an Algerian veteran of the Afghan war who has been tied to the terrorist group that carried out the 1996 attacks.
A five-count indictment accused Mr. Ressam of making false statements to U.S. Customs officials, smuggling explosives across the border, transporting explosives, being in possession of unregistered firearms and carrying explosives during a felony.
In a related matter, an American acting suspiciously was detained yesterday by Customs officials in the Bahamas while trying to board a plane for Miami. Mr. Foley said the suspect was found to be carrying wires, magnet coils and other items as he attempted to board the plane in Freeport.
"This person has since been moved to Nassau, and he's being questioned by local and FBI officials," Mr. Foley said.

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