- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

The coordinated suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia Monday deliver a potent message that al Qaeda is alive and well and still capable of murderous strikes against the United States and its allies, terrorism experts said yesterday.

“The message is: ‘Don’t think you’ve gotten rid of us, not by a long shot,’” said Edward S. Walker, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs in the Clinton administration and now president of the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

“This is an indicator for us, for the Saudis, for the entire coalition against terrorism that the job is not finished,” Mr. Walker said.

President Bush and his senior aides had argued that the military victory in Iraq and the ouster of Saddam Hussein put a major dent in the international terror networks epitomized by al Qaeda, but National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice acknowledged in a press briefing yesterday that al Qaeda was not defeated.

Al Qaeda “has been hurt,” Miss Rice said. “There’s no doubt that pulling out important field generals like [September 11 plotter] Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and [operations chief] Abu Zubaydah and others hurts the organization.”

But, she added, “we’ve always known that they were still capable of striking, and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Virtually as Miss Rice was speaking, the State Department issued a warning that terrorist groups affiliated with al Qaeda could be planning attacks on American citizens or interests in Malaysia.

Yonah Alexander, a terrorism scholar at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, said “tactical successes” against al Qaeda in the war on terrorism had fallen far short of crippling the network’s capacity to launch attacks.

“This is a group with a lot of patience when planning missions, because they believe God is on their side,” Mr. Alexander said.

The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), in its authoritative annual survey of strategic threats released Tuesday, found that al Qaeda had been “reconstituted” since it lost its operational base in Afghanistan after U.S. military action there in late 2001.

The terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden is “more insidious and just as dangerous” as it was before the September 11 attacks, the strike that galvanized the Bush administration’s global war on terrorism.

Despite the high-profile arrests and the deaths or detentions of some 2,700 al Qaeda agents and sympathizers since September 11, al Qaeda has rebuilt a well-funded network with 18,000 operatives in 90 countries that could take “a generation to dismantle,” the IISS report said.

Al Majalla, a London-based Arabic magazine, yesterday published e-mail from a purported al Qaeda senior leader promising a string of attacks around the region like Monday’s strikes in Saudi Arabia.

The author, Abu Mohammed al-Ablaj, described a method of preparation and attack that closely mirrored the Saudi bombings, even though the newspaper said it received the e-mail Saturday — two days before the attacks.

“We’ll attack the rear of the American army,” after storing up large caches of weapons and explosives in Gulf cities, the newspaper quoted the e-mail as saying.

Saudi officials captured a large store of weapons at a site in Riyadh days before Monday’s attack, but failed to capture 19 suspected al Qaeda operatives and allies in the raid. U.S. and Saudi officials strongly suspect the fugitives helped carry out the suicide bombings.

“With all the experience of guerrilla warfare it has gained in Afghanistan and Chechnya, al Qaeda will move the battle to the Gulf and the Arabian peninsula, and [U.S.] air bases, warships and military bases will become targets,” the e-mail warned.

Many Arab publications saw the Saudi attacks as payback for the U.S. campaign in Iraq and its strong support of Israel, both of which were unpopular with many in the Arab world.

“Even though they were criminal suicidal acts, the explosions that took place in Riyadh show that American policy reaps what it sows,” columnist Hazem Abdel Rahman said in the semi-official Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram.

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