Thursday, May 27, 2004

The al Qaeda terrorist network, which killed nearly 3,000 people in the September 11 attacks, is planning to strike new targets in the country during the summer and fall, federal officials said yesterday. Attorney General John Ashcroft, at a press conference with FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III at the bureau’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, cited “credible intelligence from multiple sources” that al Qaeda operatives — some of whom might already be in this country — intend to “hit the United States hard.” Mr. Ashcroft noted that al Qaeda’s public statements show that preparations for a U.S. attack are 70 percent to 90 percent complete and that several upcoming events could be “especially attractive targets” — including the Group of Eight summit from June 8 to 10 at Sea Island, Ga.; the Democratic National Convention from July 26 to 29 in Boston; and the Republican National Convention from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2 in New York City. One U.S. official said the intelligence is based on recent reports, as well as public statements by al Qaeda in March, showing that the group has “the intent and capability to launch an attack or attacks in the United States.” A second official said there also is a danger that the next major attack will involve chemical, biological or radiological weapons. “A WMD attack remains on the table for the bad guys,” this official said, in reference to weapons of mass destruction. “Although Osama bin Laden has not used these attack modes as yet, clearly he is interested in them.” Bin Laden is the leader of al Qaeda. Mr. Ashcroft identified seven al Qaeda suspects who might be involved, saying they “posed a clear and present danger to America.” He said authorities have not confirmed whether the suspects are in the country, although some have been in the past. He asked the public to report any information it had about the suspects. The seven are: • Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, a Saudi native, former South Florida resident and pilot thought to have helped plan the September 11 attacks. Authorities said he might be carrying passports from Saudi Arabia, Trinidad and Canada, and was in Canada last year looking for nuclear material for a “dirty bomb,” a conventional explosive laced with radioactive material. • Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a biology degree and wrote a doctoral thesis on neurological sciences in 2001 at Brandeis University. The FBI thinks that the woman, who also lived in Maryland, is an al Qaeda “fixer,” someone knowledgeable of U.S. procedures and fluent in English and who can get things done for other operatives. • Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a native of the Comoros Republic identified as al Qaeda’s leader in eastern Africa. He was indicted in the United States in the 1998 al Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 persons, including 12 Americans. • Ahmed Khalfan Ghailiani, a Tanzanian also under U.S. indictment in the embassy attacks. • Amer El-Maati, a Kuwaiti and Canadian citizen wanted by the FBI for questioning about ties to al Qaeda. • Abderraouf Jdey, a Tunisian and Canadian citizen, who left a suicide message on videotapes recovered in Afghanistan at the home of bin Laden’s military chief, Mohammed Atef. • Adam Yahihyi Gadahn, a U.S. citizen and Muslim convert who attended al Qaeda training camps and has served as a translator for the network. Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan said yesterday that although there was no information of an imminent threat to Canada, its intelligence and law-enforcement agencies were “working with our international partners, particularly the U.S., to keep Canadians safe.” A report yesterday by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Canada said al Qaeda has more than 18,000 potential attackers worldwide, was working on plans for major strikes on the United States and Europe, and might be seeking weapons of mass destruction. The report said the United States was al Qaeda’s prime target. In February, The Washington Times reported that al Qaeda terrorists, operating through “sleeper cells” scattered throughout the United States, were continuing to recruit members, assist in the acquisition of safe houses and equipment, conduct pre-attack surveillance and relay messages. Authorities said al Qaeda also was raising millions of dollars through a vast network of U.S.-based charities and foundations to finance, among other things, training camps and terrorist activities. Despite the new warnings, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said yesterday that the national threat alert level will not be raised from yellow to orange. He said the available intelligence was not “specific enough” to raise the level. Also, although officials expect 200 million air travelers between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Transportation Security Administration did not issue new warnings to airlines this week. Mr. Ashcroft said at the press conference that federal agents will conduct interviews nationwide to gather information that could be used to disrupt attack plots. He said similar FBI-led interviews begun prior to the Iraq war developed valuable intelligence that protected American lives. He also said the face of al Qaeda could be changing as the network seeks to infiltrate young Middle Eastern extremists into America as it did before the September 11 attacks. He said al Qaeda also was seeking recruits who can portray themselves as Europeans and was recruiting Muslim extremists among many nationalities and ethnicities, including North Africans and South Asians. Mr. Ashcroft also said that the FBI has created a 2004 Threat Task Force to focus on potential targets and those who might be involved. He said the task force, as well as analysts at FBI headquarters and in every field office, would review previously collected intelligence to determine what additional information is needed to foil any attacks. “May I be clear on this? We seek unprecedented levels of cooperation with state and local law enforcement in collecting intelligence to enable America’s entire terror-fighting apparatus to act decisively to disrupt any al Qaeda presence in the United States,” he said. “For 32 months now, we have not had a major terrorist attack on American soil. We are winning the war on terror, but we should never forget that it is a war. Fighting terrorists is a tough business,” he said. “I have faith that Americans will continue to be equal to the task.” • Bill Gertz and Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide