- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2002

NEW YORK Far from vanquished, al Qaeda is attracting recruits to new terrorist-training camps in eastern Afghanistan and possibly trying to assemble a "dirty bomb," according to an independent panel created by the U.N. Security Council.
The terrorist network remains "an insidious mass movement that must be dealt with," according to the group's report, which was dated Dec. 4 but released yesterday.
"Al Qaeda appears to have suffered some significant disruption to its infrastructure," according to the report. "But due to its decentralized, loose and relatively simple command-and-control system and inherent flexibility, it continues to pose a substantial threat, globally, to peace and security."
However, the group found no connection between al Qaeda and the Iraqi regime, contrary to what the Bush administration has repeatedly said.
"We have absolutely no indication of a link between Iraq and the others," said Michael Chandler, the British chairman of the monitoring group, who noted that terrorists would not necessarily have to go into Iraq to obtain chemical or biological weapons.
A Bush administration official said yesterday that Washington "is doing everything we can" to cooperate with the monitoring group, but acknowledged loopholes in areas such as sharing intelligence.
The official was sanguine when asked to explain why the Security Council's group cannot find a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, as National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has insisted.
"We have concerns about Saddam Hussein's cooperation with a number of terrorist groups, including al Qaeda," the administration official said. "We share information when we can, and vice versa."
The monitoring group said in its report that al Qaeda camps to train "high-level foot soldiers" were again taking root in the desolate and largely unpatrolled tribal areas of Afghanistan.
"One of the most recent developments to come to light is the apparent activation of new, albeit simple, training camps in eastern Afghanistan," according to the group, which was established by the U.N. Security Council last year to monitor sanctions imposed against the Taliban and al Qaeda in 1999.
"Particularly disturbing about this trend is the fact that new volunteers are making their way to these camps, swelling the numbers of would-be al Qaeda activists and the longer-term capabilities of the network."
Mr. Chandler told reporters yesterday that "one or two" camps had been discovered near Asadabad, northeast of Kabul and just west of the border with Pakistan.
In Washington, a senior Pentagon official took issue with the report.
"We have no evidence that would support that report," the official said. "There may be a cell or two, but nothing on the scale that this report seems to state."
Although the U.N. group reports to the Security Council, it did not share its information with coalition forces. Mr. Chandler said the new al Qaeda camps are regularly dismantled and moved.
"By the time you get there, they would be gone," he said when asked why he hadn't shared his information with international troops. "They may well try to keep [the camps] as small, discrete and mobile as they can."
Terrorist cells are apparently at work in Africa as well, he said.
The monitoring group is "highly preoccupied by the risk of al Qaeda acquiring weapons of mass destruction, or a dirty bomb," according to the report.
The group fears that operatives will buy or steal uranium from Tanzania, which has reported attempts by unscrupulous strangers to obtain uranium in powdered form or in rods.
"Sure, we're concerned," Mr. Chandler said at a press conference. "One look at films and training manuals found around Afghanistan, there are clear indications that al Qaeda was trying to find" ways to build weapons of mass destruction.
However, he acknowledged, the group has no evidence that al Qaeda has tried to acquire the Tanzanian uranium.

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