CIA repeats warning of imminent Al Qaida attack

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

WASHINGTON The U.S. intelligence community has again warned that the United States faces an imminent threat of a nonconventional weapons attack by Al Qaida and Iraq.

An attack by Al Qaida could take place either in the United States or against U.S. interests in the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf, U.S. intelligence agencies said. Iraq could also use weapons of mass destruction amid a U.S.-led war against President Saddam Hussein.

"The information we have points to plots aimed at targets on two fronts in the United States and on the Arabian Peninsula," CIA director George Tenet said on Tuesday. "It points to plots timed to occur as early as the end of the Haj, which occurs late this week. And it points to plots that could include the use of a radiological dispersion device as well as poisons and chemicals, Middle East Newsline reported."

Tenet was referring to the Muslim festival of Id Al Adha, which concludes the annual Haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Pilgrims are expected to leave the kingdom starting on Wednesday.

Tenet told the Senate Select Intelligence Committee that the alert constitutes the most specific information of an Al Qaida attack. He said the attack has been planned by the leadership of Al Qaida, agents of which have regrouped in such countries as Iran, Iraq and the Afghanistan border.

"The intelligence is not idle chatter on the part of terrorists and their associates," Tenet said. "It is the most specific we have seen, and it is consistent with both our knowledge of Al Qaida doctrine and our knowledge of plots this network and, particularly, its senior leadership has been working on for years. Al Qaida has also sharpened its focus on our allies in Europe and on operations against Israeli and Jewish targets."

[On Tuesday, the Doha-based Al Jazeera satellite channel broadcast a recording of a man identified by the Bush administration as Osama Bin Laden. In the recording, Bin Laden advised Iraqis on how to fight the United States and said his group was following "with utmost concern the Crusaders' preparations to occupy the former capital of Islam [Baghdad]."

Last week, the United States ordered a "Code Orange" alert, the second highest level deemed by the federal government. Code Orange warns of a high threat of attack.

Tenet said Al Qaida has been developing new means of attacks. He said this included the procurement of air-to-surface missiles, toxins, and weapons to strike naval targets. He said more than one-third of the Al Qaida leadership identified before September 2001 has either been killed or captured.

FBI director Robert Mueller told the committee that Al Qaida agents have entered the United States. Mueller said U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have failed to identify and locate Al Qaida operatives as well as such potential allies as Hamas and Hizbullah.

"The greatest threat is from Al Qaida cells in the U.S. that we have not yet identified," Mueller said. "The challenge of finding and rooting out Al Qaida members once they have entered the U.S. and have had time to establish themselves is our most serious intelligence and law enforcement challenge."

The U.S. intelligence community also envisioned an Iraqi biological or chemical weapons attack on either U.S. troops or against Iraqis in the Kurdish north or Shi'ite south. The WMD strikes would be part of a scorched earth policy being considered by the Saddam regime.

"I expect him to pre-emptively attack the Kurds in the north, conduct missile and terrorist attacks against Israel and U.S. regional or worldwide interests perhaps using WMD and the regime's links to Al Qaida," Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said. "Saddam is likely to employ a scorched-earth strategy. We should expect him to use WMD on his own people."

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