Al Qaida still targeting
White House, Capitol

Thursday, February 26, 2004

WASHINGTON The leadership of the U.S. intelligence community testified Tuesday that the central leadership of Al Qaida has been demolished but that their determination to destroy targets in the United States has not wavered.

"There are strong indications that Al Qaida will revisit missed targets until they succeed such as they did the World Trade Center," FBI director Robert Mueller said. "And the list of missed targets now includes both the White House as well as the Capitol," Mueller told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

CIA Director George Tenet said that over the last year autonomous cells have launched attacks in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. But Tenet stressed Al Qaida's goal is to strike the United States, including with weapons of mass destruction.

He said that more than 24 terrorist groups were pursuing chemical, biological and radiological and nuclear weapons, Middle East Newsline reported.

"Even catastrophic attacks on the scale of 9/11 remain within Al Qaida's reach. Make no mistake, these plots are hatched abroad, but they target U.S. soil and those of our allies."

Al Qaida-inspired insurgents have carried out the most lethal attacks against coalition forces and their allies in Iraq, the U.S. intelligence community has determined. The community believes that Iraq has become the new training ground for Islamic insurgency groups.

"Left unchecked, Iraq has the potential to serve as a training ground for the next generation of terrorists," Defense Intelligence Agency director Adm. Lowell Jacoby told the committee.

"A number of factors virtually assure a terrorist threat for years to come. Despite recent reforms, terrorist organizations draw from societies with poor or failing economies, ineffective governments and inadequate education systems."

In an updated assessment of the organization, the intelligence community has determined that Al Qaida has relinquished its control over many Islamic insurgency groups. Instead, Al Qaida permits its satellite organizations to designate targets and plan attacks.

"These far-flung groups increasingly set the agenda, and are redefining the threat we face," Tenet said. "They are not all creatures of Bin Laden, and so their fate is not tied to his. They have autonomous leadership, they pick their own targets, they plan their own attacks."

In testimony to the Committee, Tenet said the Al Qaida network contains dozens of Sunni groups. Tenet cited Ansar Al Islam in Iraq the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Salifiya Jihadiya in Morocco.

"Local Al Qaida cells are forced to make their own decisions because of disarray in the central leadership," Tenet said.

"Over the past 18 months, we have killed or captured key Al Qaida leaders in every significant operational area logistics, planning, finance, training and have eroded the key pillars of the organization, such as the leadership in Pakistani urban areas and operational cells in the Al Qaida heartland of Saudi Arabia and Yemen."

"The steady growth of Osama Bin Laden's anti-American sentiment through the wider Sunni extremist movement and the broad dissemination of Al Qaida's destructive expertise ensure that a serious threat will remain for the foreseeable future, with or without Al Qaida in the picture," Tenet added.

Jacoby expressed concern that U.S. partners in the war against Al Qaida particularly those in the Middle East might be unable to withstand growing domestic opposition. He said the death or overthrow of a key pro-American leader in the Arab world could hurt the coalition. In previous testimony, Tenet cited Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as those who have cooperated with the United States.

"Many of our partners successfully weathered domestic stresses during Operation Iraqi Freedom," Jacoby said. "However, challenges to their stability and their continued support for the war on terrorism remain.

Islamic and Arab populations are increasingly opposed to U.S. policies. The loss of a key leader could quickly change government support for U.S. and coalition operations."

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