- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2003

U.S. intelligence agencies and their allies disrupted a number of terrorist plots, including threats from al Qaeda against American troops in the Persian Gulf, during the war against Iraq, U.S. officials told United Press International.
"There were a number of disruptions to terrorist efforts around the world over the last month or so," said a U.S. intelligence official, adding that some of the attempts were by al Qaeda operatives.
"Rolled up is probably too precise a phrase," said the official, who requested anonymity. "If you think of it as someone snuffing out a burning fuse, that's not the case, but people who were planning bad things have ended up getting deported or arrested or detained."
Another government official, who also asked not to be named, confirmed the account, and said "al Qaeda plots against U.S. troops in the Gulf were disrupted during the war."
Other officials point out that this has been happening almost continuously since September 11. They say that threats are disrupted almost every day.
Analysts concur.
"Al Qaeda members are constantly plotting against the United States," said Ben Venzke, a private-sector counterterrorism analyst who does consultation work for U.S. government agencies. "And they are constantly having to change or abandon those plans because of the aggressive prosecution of the war on terror."
With no independent confirmation and with officials unwilling to speak on the record, noting security concerns, it is impossible to judge the seriousness or scale of the planned attacks.
But the assertion that attacks were averted highlights the question of the degree to which al Qaeda, given its failure to successfully stage any attacks during the war, poses a continuing threat to the United States and its interests. It's a subject on which knowledgeable people disagree.
"Al Qaeda is on the run … we are pretty much sure that the network has been broken, that the organization is in disarray," said Mohammad Sadiq, deputy chief of mission of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.
He said the group was dealt a fatal blow by the arrest of many of its top leaders, notably Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. "In many ways, he was more important to the organization than Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is a symbolic figure, but it was Shaikh Khalid who was running the operations."
Bin Laden is considered the mastermind behind many of the terror network's attacks.
Mr. Sadiq said the arrests have crippled al Qaeda. "They couldn't stage an attack like they did before. … The clear indications are that they are much, much weaker than they were a year or a year and a half ago."
He had no specific information about arrests or interdictions resulting from the capture of Shaikh Mohammed, but said it was a "very big catch … ."
"This whole operation is highly classified, but the indications were there. The intelligence community was very happy," he said.
The U.S. intelligence official, however, said successes in the war on terror have disrupted al Qaeda only "a bit."
"The capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has thrown them off their feet," he said, but added, "I would not get complacent. Something could still happen at any time."

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