- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2002

The al Qaeda terrorist group yesterday released a new audiotape that says it is planning more attacks "against American and Jewish targets" and that also says its leader, Osama bin Laden, is alive and well.
"America must prepare itself and fasten its seat belt. We will arrive when they are not expecting us," Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a known spokesman for al Qaeda network and bin Laden, said in a long statement that aired on the Qatar-based satellite news channel Al-Jazeera.
In the tape, Abu Ghaith, who was stripped of his Kuwaiti citizenship because of his links to al Qaeda, said both bin Laden, the reputed mastermind of September 11, and Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the now-ousted Taliban government in Afghanistan that harbored him, are both "in good health."
Abu Ghaith also confirmed that al Qaeda was responsible for an April 11 explosion of a fuel tanker near a Jewish synagogue in Tunisia, which killed 19 persons, including 14 Germans.
"God was with us when the whole world saw what the Mujahideen did in New York and Washington," the terrorist spokesman said.
The war against the United States "has just started," Abu Ghaith said, and al Qaeda has the means to "stage fresh attacks against U.S. targets."
"Our martyrs are bracing to carry out these operations against U.S. and Jewish targets," he said.
In his lengthy diatribe, Abu Ghaith contended that neither President Bush nor Vice President Richard B. Cheney or even Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld "will be able to know the place, the time or manner in which these attacks will be carried out."
Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, made it clear in appearances on several talk shows yesterday that he takes such threats seriously.
"I think there is a heightened level of threat, let's say, in comparison to 30 or 60 days ago," he said on "Fox News Sunday."
Mr. Graham cited "specific allegations," such as those made Friday by the FBI "that there's going to be the use of trucks filled with gasoline against Jewish targets in the United States." He pointed out that the Tunisia attack was carried out with a propane fuel truck.
"It is a serious threat," he said about the U.S. gasoline-truck threat. "It is a new form of terrorist attack which al Qaeda has perfected."
Mr. Graham bemoaned what he called a "disturbing pattern of reformulation by al Qaeda and their renewed willingness and capability to conduct terrorist attacks."
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and vice chairman of the intelligence committee, said he also feared that al Qaeda might be regrouping successfully.
"They're all over the world. They've been trying to regroup and, I believe, they're going to continue to be a real, real problem. They could hit us any day," he said on ABC's "This Week."
On yesterday's talk shows, some expressed doubts about Abu Ghaith's assertions that bin Laden is alive and in good condition, given that the terrorist leader looked bad in a previous videotape and did not make the new tape himself or appear on screen.
"We've seen Osama bin Laden on television. The last tape, he doesn't look very good. He's not well," Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, said on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer."
The tape apparently was recorded this month, as Abu Ghaith noted that "eight months has passed" since the United States began its military campaign in Afghanistan in October.
He said that "98 percent of al Qaeda fighters escaped unhurt and are running its affairs unaffected by U.S. bombing raids in Afghanistan."
Mr. Graham said on Fox that the chances are that bin Laden has not been killed, and he warned against putting too much weight on the appearance by Abu Ghaith.
"It's not surprising that there is a statement that bin Laden is still alive. Our best intelligence estimate continues to be that he is alive and probably some place in those tribal areas on the western side of Pakistan.
"The fact that a subordinate was used to release this information might have some significance, but I doubt it," the chairman said.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said on "Late Edition" that he does not know whether bin Laden is alive or dead.
"But, if he's alive, I'd like for him to stick his head up and let us get a good look at him," the Mississippi Republican said.
Asked what he would do if bin Laden did that, Mr. Lott said, "Then I would take it off."
In an interview on CNN's "Late Edition," Hamid Karzai, the new president of Afghanistan, said he has "no information" as to bin Laden's whereabouts. As for Mullah Omar, he said, "We've been hearing that he's been sometimes in Afghanistan; sometimes, we've heard he's crossed over to Pakistan. He was tracked once or twice, and we almost got him."
Mr. Karzai said there needs to be "three-way cooperation" among the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan in an "operation to find people like Osama bin Laden," but said he did not know whether this should involve a "joint operation of forces or a sharing of information."
The Afghan leader insists al Qaeda is no longer a threat to his new government. "They are a defeated force. They are on the run. They are hiding. And we are after them," he said on CNN.
But Mr. Karzai is not ready to predict that U.S. troops will soon be able to leave Afghanistan.
Asked how long U.S. troops will remain in his country, he said, "For as long as it takes to completely finish terrorism from the face of the earth for as long as it takes to completely finish them in this region, and we are willing to cooperate with the international community in that."
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, who also appeared on "Late Edition," said he believes Congress is willing to authorize such an open-ended U.S. military mission in Afghanistan.
"We've got to be prepared to stay there until it's clear there's no avenue [for terrorists] to come back in keep them scattered, keep them nervous and eventually just nail them. But don't give them a new haven to return to," he said.

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