Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Al Qaeda terrorists, operating through “sleeper cells” scattered throughout the United States, continue to recruit new members, assist in the acquisition of safe houses and equipment, conduct pre-attack surveillance and relay messages from terrorist leaders and planners, U.S. law-enforcement authorities said yesterday.

Despite having been degraded by America’s ongoing war on terrorism and an aggressive enforcement effort by the FBI, the organization also continues to raise millions of dollars through a vast network of U.S.-based bogus charities and foundations — used to finance, among other things, terrorist training camps abroad, the authorities said.

But U.S. law-enforcement officials and other government agencies declined yesterday to comment specifically on a Tuesday report by The Washington Times that Islamist radicals are being trained at terrorist camps in Pakistan and Kashmir as part of a conspiracy to send hundreds of operatives to sleeper cells in the United States.

U.S. and foreign intelligence and law-enforcement officials said dozens of Islamist extremists had been sent through Europe to Muslim communities in the United States from training camps in the remote regions of western Pakistan and in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

Asked about The Times report, one U.S. official said there is no doubt that training camps for terrorists are operating in Pakistan and Kashmir, but that recent focus of the groups largely has been on internal Pakistani issues. The official would not elaborate, referring further inquiries to the FBI.

“The FBI remains committed to investigating and disrupting terrorist activities in the United States. There is no more important mission,” said FBI spokesman Bill Carter, adding that locating al Qaeda members and sympathizers “is our highest priority.”

Mr. Carter confirmed that al Qaeda maintains a network of members and associates in dozens of countries, including the United States, but said the FBI had made “significant progress” in disrupting their activities and planning.

Despite denials by the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, the law-enforcement and intelligence officials told The Times that the camps in Pakistan were documented by the Indian government, which said its army had photographs and other evidence that had been turned over to U.S. officials.

That information included satellite photos and communication intercepts showing 60 to 70 camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as well as in Pakistan.

Law-enforcement authorities said yesterday that al Qaeda members and sympathizers, whose presence in the United States has been documented, are not thought to pose “an imminent threat” but are a significant threat here.

They said al Qaeda terrorists maintain an active network of members and sympathizers in dozens of other countries.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism, technology and homeland security, told The Times this week that international terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda, are actively recruiting operatives in the United States in an ongoing scheme to establish sleeper cells nationwide to defeat the country’s heightened state of security since the September 11 attacks.

Financed by cash from Saudi Arabia, routed through U.S. mosques and an extensive network of bogus charities and foundations, the terrorist organizations’ influence in this country is “more pervasive than people realize” and new members are being recruited to train at camps abroad, Mr. Kyl said.

Last year, Mr. Kyl’s subcommittee targeted extremist Muslims in America, those who had become increasingly influential throughout the country — buoyed by foreign state-sponsored doctrines and a wellspring of cash used to recruit and train international terrorists.

Federal law-enforcement authorities think Saudi cash has been a significant source of funding for global terrorism, particularly Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network. Part of that effort, the authorities said, also has targeted black Muslims at mosques, prisons and universities in this country who are thought to be sympathetic to Islamist extremism.

Bill Gertz contributed to this article.

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