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Al-Qaida trying to prove it is still a capable force

Saturday, May 17, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Al-Qaida is out to prove it is still a force, U.S. counterterrorism officials said Friday, suggesting the bombings in Saudi Arabia and terrorist threats in Africa and Asia are part of a coordinated effort to strike lightly defended targets.

At this point, those targets do not appear to include places within the United States, officials said. While acknowledging the network is capable of U.S. strikes, they said intelligence points toward attacks overseas, where al-Qaida operatives are more numerous and security measures less effective.

"We have no credible, specific intelligence information that indicates similar attacks are planned to take place in this country," said Department of Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.

U.S. and British authorities have warned of threats in East Africa, particularly Kenya, and in southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia. And the group that conducted this week's attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, remains at large and could strike again.

U.S. officials also have received an unconfirmed report that a possible terrorist attack may occur in the western Saudi city of Jiddah.

The State Department said it could not judge the credibility of the threat, but diplomatic families living in Jiddah's Alhamra district were moving out, according to the warning report.

After Monday's attacks, U.S. officials said some intelligence warned of a series of strikes.

While deadly and well-coordinated, the Riyadh strike lacked some of al-Qaida's trademarks -- particularly its usual attempt to hit a well-defended or highly visible target in an attempt to create massive casualties.

This may reflect directives from Osama bin Laden and other senior al-Qaida leaders -- thought to be hiding in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran -- to conduct a successful strike to let the world know the network still exists, American officials said.

Countering perception

This would counter a growing perception al-Qaida has been largely dismantled, officials said.

President Bush, meanwhile, called Monday's suicide bombings "a wake-up call to many that the war on terror continues."

"No one should be complacent in the 21st century, the early stages of the 21st century, so long as al-Qaida moves," he said. "I've told the country that we've brought to justice about half of the al-Qaida network -- operatives, key operatives. And so the other half still lives. And we'll find them, one at a time."

The increase in terrorism threats in several countries at once suggests a coordinated effort, directed by senior leadership, officials said.

Al-Qaida had suffered some serious blows in recent months, particularly the capture of alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Two alleged senior planners of the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen were also captured.

Adel al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, told reporters Friday the Saudi government will undertake its own unilateral efforts to bring down al-Qaida and will share information with U.S. investigators "almost in real time."

"We're both in the crosshairs of this organization," al-Jubeir said. "We have never had as close or as strong a cooperative effort between our two countries as we have now. Have we failed? Yes. On Monday, we failed. We will learn from this mistake, we will ensure it never happens again."

An FBI assessment team has visited the bombing sites and is satisfied with the Saudi efforts to secure the crime scenes and recover and preserve evidence, said a senior law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity.

The new warnings also extend to U.S. military personnel serving overseas. Pentagon officials say troops asking for leave to visit countries under a State Department travel warning are discouraged from doing so but are only banned if the military is under "threat condition Delta," its highest state of alert, in the area.


On the Net:

State Department travel warnings: http://travel.state.gov/

Department of Homeland Security: http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/


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