CIA report: Al Qaida leadership 'reeling' from U.S. blows

Monday, September 15, 2003

Al Qaida's leadership appears on the verge of collapse, the CIA said.

The report was disclosed by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in testimony on Sept. 9, to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Wolfowitz read portions of the report meant to review the state of Al Qaida and its potential for renewed attacks.

"Al Qaida's central leadership is reeling from the impact of the counterterrorist successes of the U.S. and our allies," the report said.

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Recent crackdowns by the Saudis on Al Qaida cells in its country have also been devastating, Middle East Newsline reported.

"The central leadership of Al Qaida is at growing risk of breaking apart as our blows against the group create a level of disarray and confusion throughout the organization that we have not seen since the collapse of the Taliban in late 2001."

The report said Al Qaida's financial network has been hurt since October 2001. The CIA said 10 leading financiers of Al Qaida have been captured or killed over the last two years. Moreover, two-thirds of Al Qaida's leadership —composed of up to 25 people — has been killed or captured.

The result, the CIA said, is that Al Qaida has lost much of its ability to launch large-scale attacks. Two such Al Qaida financiers identified were Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, both captured over the last 18 months.

"While the group has a large bench of middle managers and foot soldiers," the report said, "it is rapidly losing its cadre of senior planners who have access to and the trust of Bin Laden, the leadership and organizational skills needed to mount sophisticated attacks, and the savvy to operate in an increasingly hostile counterterrorism environment."

But the report warned that Al Qaida remains lethal and maintains a large core of supporters. They said this continues to present the threat of imminent attack on U.S. interests throughout the world.

"Even if the Al Qaida organization is defeated and its worldwide cells are left to fend for themselves, Bin Laden's call for attacks on the United States will continue to resonate among Muslim extremists," the report said.

"It takes only a handful of terrorists with little more than creativity, dedication, and luck to successfully cause mass casualties."

The CIA also reported increased cooperation in the war against Al Qaida.

The report cited Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, saying Riyad's counter-insurgency campaign since the May 12 suicide strikes in the Saudi capital has been effective in damaging Al Qaida.

"The [Saudi] campaign has resulted in the death and capture of numerous Al Qaida cell leaders and operatives and has severely hurt the group's fundraising and propaganda efforts," the report said.

At the same time, the State Department has issued a worldwide alert to Americans concerning an Al Qaida attack. The department warned of attacks in Europe and Central Asia.

"We are seeing increasing indications that Al Qaida is preparing to strike U.S. interests abroad," the State Department said.

"We therefore assess that European or Eurasian locations could be venues for the next round of attacks."

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