- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

U.S. intelligence officials are investigating ties between the terrorists who carried out suicide airliner attacks and associates of Osama bin Laden based in Albania.
The connections were described as support for the terrorist operation to hijack U.S. commercial jetliners and crash them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
No further details of the support could be learned.
One official said intelligence reports about the Albanian connection to the attacks is one of several leads being pursued overseas by the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies.
Bin Laden and his organization, al Qaeda, are believed to have small groups of terrorists or supporters in 50 to 60 nations, including Albania, according to U.S. officials.
Asked if getting bin Laden is the U.S. goal, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters yesterday that "we are after the al Qaeda network."
"It's not one individual," Mr. Powell said. "It's lots of individuals, and it's lots of cells. … Osama bin Laden is the chairman of a holding company. And within that holding company are terrorist cells and organizations in dozens of countries around the world."
The administration's war on terrorism will "start with that one individual" bin Laden.
"It will not be over until we have gotten into the inside of this organization, inside its decision cycle, inside its planning cycle, inside its execution capability, and until we have neutralized and destroyed it," Mr. Powell said. "That's our objective."
Albania is one of several places U.S. intelligence agencies are focusing their resources from human agents to electronic eavesdropping.
Since the mid-1990s, bin Laden associates have been based in Tirana, Albania's capital, as well as in at least two other towns in the small, formerly communist nation, U.S. officials said.
Islamic radicals, including supporters of bin Laden, have been supporting Albanian rebels fighting in the region, including members of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Intelligence officials have said there are reports that KLA members have been trained at bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden and his Islamic extremist group, al Qaeda, are the main suspects in last week's terrorist attacks.
As of last year, the group operated a residence in Tirana, and the CIA has been pressing Albania's government to expel all associates of the Islamic terrorists.
According to U.S. officials, bin Laden gained a foothold in Albania in 1994 by portraying himself to the government there as a wealthy Saudi national who was in charge of a humanitarian agency that could help Albania.
Albanian intelligence believes terrorists have benefited from the theft of some 1,000 blank Albanian passports that were stolen during riots in 1997, according to a 1998 report in the London Sunday Telegraph.
Since the attack, the FBI has detained 49 persons, many of whom appear to be of Middle Eastern descent. Four of the detainees were are identified as "material witnesses" to the Sept. 11 attacks. None has been identified by nationality and the passports they used to enter the United States also have not been identified.
In 1998, U.S. and Albanian authorities broke up an Islamic terrorist cell in Albania and arrested two members of the bin Laden group.
The CIA was able to obtain a large quantity of documents and computer equipment that led to further arrests. Two members of the group, Egyptian nationals, were turned over to anti-terrorist police in Egypt that year.
"Bin Laden's group has a network in Albania," said former CIA counterterrorism official Vince Cannistraro.
"This looks like the support operation [for the U.S. attacks] was worldwide," he said of reports of the Albanian connection.
Albanian Police Chief Bilbil Mema told Agence France-Presse on Thursday that Albania had ceased to be a safe haven for terrorism. "In Albania there is no longer an Islamic threat," Mr. Mema was quoted as saying. "This country is no longer a refuge for Islamic terrorists."
Albanian security and intelligence authorities, in cooperation with the CIA, had "successfully led operations aimed at destroying the network that Islamic terrorists have attempted to establish in this country," Mr. Mema said.

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