Lawmakers warn of possible return of al-Qaida network

Monday, June 24, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Al-Qaida terrorists appear to be regrouping as a lethal threat with or without Osama bin Laden, congressional leaders said Sunday.

Lawmakers cited recently publicized warnings from U.S. officials and a bin Laden spokesman to underscore the persistent danger from terrorists chased from their Afghan havens.

They appear to be more capable of attacking Americans than they were a month or two ago, said Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

He said bin Laden might be in Pakistan's western tribal lands.

Added Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the committee's top Republican, "They could hit us any day."

The senators offered no evidence of an impending attack other than the uncorroborated warnings issued lately, including one that al-Qaida could use fuel tanker trucks against Jewish interests in America.

But with the approach of Independence Day, an attractive target day for terrorists, foreboding was heard throughout the Sunday talk show circuit.

"They would love the symbolism" of attacking on July Fourth, said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas. "We must be doubly alert on that day."

It was left to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sound a note of confidence about the progress made against al-Qaida and the Taliban both.

"They are a defeated force," he said on CNN's "Late Edition." "They are on the run." Individuals might be plotting terrorism but basically, "they're criminals in hiding."

Officials have not established the authenticity of an audio interview made public on the weekend in which bin Laden associate Sulaiman Abu Ghaith says the al-Qaida leader and most other top figures in the network are alive, well and ready to attack again.

"Lot of bravado there," said Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, noting bin Laden did not look well at all when last seen on video.

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