- The Washington Times - Friday, July 12, 2002

The al Qaeda terrorist group is regrouping and is working secretly inside the United States, the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said yesterday.
"I don't know about numbers," said Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and vice chairman of the committee.
"There are a lot of potential or maybe active al Qaeda agents in the U.S. They don't have, I believe, at the moment the central command they did with Osama bin Laden, but they're well-trained, and I think you have to recognize they're dangerous," he said.
Both Mr. Shelby and Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat and the committee's chairman, said they could not provide a specific number of al Qaeda members in the United States when asked to respond to a report in The Washington Times yesterday that said up to 5,000 were under surveillance by U.S. intelligence agencies.
"But we do know that for a period of five or six years, when the training camps were in operation in Afghanistan, there was an average of 5,000 to 6,000 people trained per year," Mr. Graham said. "Those people are somewhere. And there's no expectation other than that some of them are in the United States."
The terrorist infrastructure in the United States is not limited to al Qaeda, he said. Other groups with representatives here include pro-Iran terrorist group Hezbollah, or Party of God, he added.
The figure of 5,000 was contained in classified intelligence reports and represented an increase from earlier estimates of more than 100 active al Qaeda members and hundreds of sympathizers. U.S. intelligence officials said the figure included hard-core members and sympathizers who could be called on to support terrorist actions.
Mr. Graham said U.S. intelligence has indicated for several months that al Qaeda leader bin Laden is alive and probably hiding somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The senator also said al Qaeda appears to be regrouping after the disruption of its operations in Afghanistan by U.S. military strikes.
"We also know that al Qaeda is attempting to regroup, and there are evidences of it having done so," he said, noting the recent bombing of a synagogue in Tunisia.
Al Qaeda terrorist cells in Hamburg, Germany, also are "becoming more active," he said.
"And we've had this series of al Qaeda threats about actions inside the United States."
The senators met reporters to discuss the joint House-Senate oversight committee probe into the intelligence failures of September 11.
The committee will meet next week to hear testimony on U.S. spying technology, Mr. Graham said, and in two weeks will hear testimony on tracking of terrorist finances.
"I think we are making good progress," he said.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a House hearing yesterday that al Qaeda remained a threat inside the country.
"There remain sleeper terrorists and their supporters in the United States who have not yet been identified in a way that will allow us to take pre-emptive action against them," he said. "And as we limit the access of foreign terrorists to our country, we recognize that the terrorists' response will be to recruit United States citizens and permanent residents to carry out their attacks."
The attorney general told the Select Committee on Homeland Security that al Qaeda "maintains a hidden but active presence in the United States waiting to strike again."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide