- The Washington Times - Friday, October 11, 2002

The White House yesterday expressed concern that al Qaeda terrorists may be "seeking to regroup" as the FBI issued an alert to law enforcement agencies in the wake of fresh threats from Osama bin Laden's top deputy.

Also yesterday, U.S. and French officials said that investigators now believe that the explosion of a French supertanker off Yemen was an act of terrorism, reversing earlier judgments that the blast was an accident.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, without mentioning the tanker explosion, said that "the possibility is still unfortunately with us that there are terrorists, al Qaeda terrorists who, seeking to regroup, still want to bring harm to the United States and to our interests abroad."

"So it is a source of concern," he added. "And that's why the FBI acted" in issuing its alert.

The bureau was reacting to a voice recording of bin Laden's second in command, Ayman Zawahiri, that aired Tuesday on al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based news network.

"America and its allies should know their crimes will not go unpunished," Zawahiri said in the broadcast. He warned America and its allies "to leave Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula [and] Afghanistan and the rest of the land of Islam before they lose everything."

Although al Qaeda has not been mentioned specifically in the tanker explosion off Yemen, a senior State Department official told Agence France-Presse that "there are now lots of indications that it was caused by some bad people, terrorists," stressing, however that the probe had not yet been completed.

The French Foreign Ministry also said that initial results of the investigation "appear to lead to the conclusion that the Oct. 6 blast on the French oil tanker Limburg was due to an attack."

Agence France-Presse quoted a U.S. defense official as saying that American investigators on the Limburg had found fragments of a small boat on deck and residue that tested positive for TNT.

U.S. investigators "found pieces and parts of a small marine vessel on deck," the official told the wire service, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I believe that we had a couple of areas test positive for residue of TNT."

Crew members also saw a small boat speeding toward the Limburg moments before an explosion rocked the supertanker last week, blowing a hole in its hull at the waterline. An Islamic Yemeni group claimed responsibility for the blast, which killed one crew member and injured 12 others.

The Zawahiri tape meanwhile raised concerns in the administration because it provided the strongest proof that Zawahiri, who has been instrumental in planning al Qaeda attacks, survived the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.

"The FBI last night did issue a notice to law enforcement communities around the country, that as a result of that audiotape and other information, that it was important for local jurisdictions and authorities to review their plans, to make certain that all precautions have been taken," Mr. Fleischer said.

The tape prompted the State Department to warn overseas diplomats to exercise caution.

"Particularly when al Qaeda puts out statements, one has to make sure that we're appropriately vigilant not only here, but at our missions overseas," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Nonetheless, the administration opted not to raise its color-coded alert level from yellow, or elevated, to orange, or high.

"The alert level remains at its current elevated level; no changes have been made to it," Mr. Fleischer told reporters in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.

Elsewhere yesterday in the war on terrorism:

•In Kuwait, three U.S. Marines were injured in a suspected land-mine explosion during a training exercise. None of the injuries was believed to be life threatening.

•In the southern Philippines, a bomb ripped through a crowded bus station, killing six persons and wounding two dozen, a week after a blast linked to al Qaeda killed a U.S. Green Beret and three others. Officials said the attack in Kidapawan city had all the hallmarks of terrorism but were not blaming any group.

•German authorities yesterday arrested a Moroccan man in Hamburg on suspicion that he provided logistical support to the Hamburg cell of September 11 plotters led by Mohamed Atta. Abdelghani Mzoudi, 29, also attended training camps in Afghanistan, German prosecutors said.

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