- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2002

A statement attributed to al Qaeda calls on Americans to become Muslims and warns of new terror attacks in Washington and New York unless the United States stops supporting Israel.
But Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge yesterday downplayed the importance of the unsigned, six-page statement received by Yosri Fouda, a journalist with the Qatar-based satellite television channel Al Jazeera.
In an interview yesterday on CNN, Mr. Fouda said he was certain the letter, which he received last week through "previously tested channels," was written by a top leader in Osama bin Laden's terror network, though he was unsure which leader.
The statement warns the United States to "stop your support for Israel against the Palestinians, for Russians against the Chechens and leave us alone, or expect us in Washington and New York," CNN reported.
"Do not force us to ship you in coffins," it said.
Mr. Fouda said the document ends with a call for the American people to convert to Islam.
On Iraq, the document states: "You are placing Muslims under siege in Iraq where children die every day. Oh how weird that you don't care for 1.5 million Iraqi children who died under siege. But when 3,000 of your compatriots died, the whole world was shaken."
In an appearance yesterday on "Fox News Sunday," Mr. Ridge dismissed the letter, saying "we're familiar with that piece of information. It's really nothing new."
"The threats contained in that piece are the same threats we've been hearing now for the past year. The conditions are the same. We can't add any special credence to it," he said.
In the interview, he noted that intelligence personnel have "heard increased chatter about potential [terrorist] activity in the United States and around the world."
"We've taken additional precautions and additional protective measures within the government and in the private sector" as a result, Mr. Ridge said.
London's Sunday Times, which reported the terrorist letter yesterday, quoted it as saying: "We have the right to attack our attackers, to destroy villages and cities of whoever destroyed our villages and cities, to destroy the economy of those who have robbed our wealth, and to kill civilians of the country, which have killed ours."
Mr. Fouda, who received the mystery letter, is the same reporter who last week received an audiotape purportedly made by bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks that killed more than 3,000 people. Some see the new tape as proof bin Laden is alive, as the speaker mentions recent terrorist attacks in other parts of the world.
"We know that this reporter has pretty good connections with the al Qaeda leadership and we know that New York and Washington continue to be potential targets for another attack," Mr. Ridge said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."
Mr. Fouda told CNN yesterday the unsigned letter he received focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq and Kashmir. The letter apparently also called for the removal of U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, but those appear to have been moved further down on al Qaeda's list of priorities.
Disclosure of this letter with its threats of further domestic terrorism came two days after the FBI warned that al Qaeda might be planning "spectacular attacks" against landmarks and aviation, petroleum and nuclear targets in this country in a bid to hurt the economy, cause mass casualties and "inflict massive psychological trauma."
On CBS' "Face the Nation," Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat and a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the alarmist way these potential attacks were described, given what "we were told afterwards."
He noted that federal officials subsequently explained that the so-called "spectacular attacks" were actually "an accumulation of evidence dating back months."
"I'm wondering who's in charge here that should be making statements like that. I think one source this morning called them Chicken Little alerts," said Mr. Dodd, who was referring to an editorial in the New York Times.
Published reports yesterday said Mr. Ridge has received the nod to be secretary of the new Department of Homeland Security. Passage of the homeland security bill could come today, before the Senate adjourns this week.
Mr. Ridge declined to confirm his appointment in talk-show appearances yesterday, but the Associated Press said it had confirmed the decision with a senior White House official.
Mr. Ridge was also asked about reports that the Bush administration is considering a new domestic counterterrorism agency, modeled after MI5 in Great Britain, which Mr. Ridge visited last week.
Mr. Ridge told ABC there are no plans to set up a domestic spy agency separate from the FBI.
He said President Bush is pleased with the progress FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has shown on this front. He said he's not sure that an MI5 equivalent an intelligence-gathering agency with no law-enforcement powers would ever work in the United States.
Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, and Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, the top members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, both said on "Late Edition" that the FBI has much to learn in terms of intelligence gathering and said an alternative like MI5 is worth examining.
However, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, cautioned against assuming any need for such an agency, and for acting without congressional approval.
"A lot of things have been done in the name of national security, particularly in the 20th century, that we've regretted retrospectively," Mr. McCain said on "Face the Nation."
Mr. Ridge sidestepped questions about whether U.S. officials had a program to spy on Iraqis living in the United States if a war breaks out.
On Fox, he said, if there is a war, "additional security measures would have to be taken domestically."
But he added: "We operate under a rule of law," so any steps taken "would have to be consistent with the U.S. Constitution."
Mr. Shelby, on the other hand, backed such moves, saying, "We should do everything we can to disrupt and destroy any cells, any activity that would do us harm in this country."

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