- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

The capture of two suspected al Qaeda terrorists trying to enter the United States has bolstered concerns by intelligence officials that terrorists are seeking to create a global network of small, clandestine "sleeper cells" to plan and carry out future attacks.
"The war in Afghanistan has proven costly to the al Qaeda network, but not fatal," said one U.S. law-enforcement official who asked not to be identified. "They are looking for places from which they can plan new attacks without drawing a lot of attention.
"It would be safe to say they have spread themselves globally, and the United States is not immune," said the official, adding that a "logical choice of location" would be one or several Muslim-dominated communities nationwide.
Last week, The Washington Times reported that two al Qaeda suspects were taken into custody by U.S. immigration authorities as they tried to enter the United States after their fingerprints were matched with ones lifted by U.S. military officials from documents found in caves in Afghanistan.
The two men were among 330 aliens apprehended at the border since September who have been deemed as law-enforcement threats. Their capture is part of a federal program known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) a fingerprinting system that matches foreign visitors against databases of known criminals and terrorists.
The unidentified men are of Middle Eastern descent. It was not clear where the men were detained or where they are being held.
In numerous military operations, U.S. forces destroyed scores of al Qaeda and Taliban caves in Afghanistan, confiscated tons of arms and ammunition, and located hundreds of documents.
U.S. soldiers, assisted by federal law-enforcement authorities, lifted what was described as "a great number" of latent fingerprints from papers found in the caves, and from others seized in abandoned hide-outs and training camps for al Qaeda and Taliban members.
The prints were added to NSEERS for screening incoming aliens.
Thousands of al Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas disappeared from Afghanistan after the Taliban regime collapsed in November 2001. They abandoned a number of training camps, which yielded significant intelligence about the activities of al Qaeda and the terrorism network's founder, Osama bin Laden.
Since the September 11 attacks, more than 3,000 suspected al Qaeda members and associates have been captured in over 100 countries. Nearly a third of the organization's leadership also has been killed or captured.
Some information about the establishment of sleeper cells globally came from suspected al Qaeda terrorists now in the custody of U.S. authorities in Cuba and Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld also told a Senate committee recently that the al Qaeda network was continuing to place operatives in more than 60 countries.
Last month, Canadian authorities gathered evidence showing that al Qaeda had established sleeper cells in Canada whose members had the "capability and conviction" to support terrorist activities all across North America.
The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) described the cells as secretive, operational and loyal to bin Laden.
"The service believes there are supporters of Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network in Canada," the CSIS said. "Several individuals under service investigation are the products of violent Jihad … the service believes that some extremists in Canada have the capability and conviction to provide support for terrorist activities in North America."
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police confirmed in a separate report last month that foreign-born terrorists were operating in Canada and were being financed, in part, by charities, nongovernmental organizations and commercial entities. The RCMP said cash was being funneled to the terrorists through the Hawala, an international underground banking system.
Congress required in the USA Patriot Act that the Justice Department develop the entry-exit fingerprint system to provide greater protection against terrorist attacks. A total of 54,000 visitors from 148 countries have been checked through the program, authorities said.

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