View Full Version : Intelligence: Bin Laden behind new terror threat

12-23-03, 06:50 PM
New intelligence information indicates that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his top deputy personally approved the suspected terrorist attack plan that led the government to raise the nation's terror threat assessment this week, U.S. officials told NBC News on Tuesday.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said U.S. intelligence agencies had gathered detailed information about the plan, in which they said al-Qaida operatives would hijack foreign airliners and fly them into targets in the United States. In some instances, the intelligence is so detailed as to include specific flight numbers, they said.

The Defense Department said Tuesday that it was broadening air patrols throughout the country. Security forces have put several U.S. airports under intense scrutiny, the U.S. officials told NBC's Jim Miklaszewski, specifically naming Newark International Airport in New Jersey.

Federal air marshals, who usually fly only on domestic flights, are now boarding international airlines into those airports.

Bin Laden, al-Zawahiri may be behind plan
The U.S. officials said the new intelligence indicated that bin Laden himself had approved the most recent plan for major attacks, along with Ayman al-Zawahiri, his deputy.

U.S. officials and terrorism experts said that while some of the potential targets might seem unusual, there was a method to al-Qaida’s plot.

For example, the officials said, al-Qaida seems particularly interested in Tappahannock, Va., a tiny town of 2,016 people with no military base or major infrastructure. Such an attack would be intended to generate widespread fear that no one was safe, even in small rural towns, they said.

“Just remember that al-Qaida is not just looking to kill as many Americans as possible. They’re looking to seriously hurt our nation’s economy,” terrorism specialist Roger Cressey, former chief of staff of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, said in an interview.

In addition to big cities like New York and Los Angeles, al-Qaida has targeted Las Vegas, the officials said, because of its economic value as the nation's No. 2 vacation destination and as home to large conventions and trade shows beginning next month.

Other possible targets include important infrastructure facilities, such as nuclear power plants and dams. The officials mentioned oil transport facilities at Valdez, Alaska, as a particularly likely target.

Response to serious threat
The new intelligence adds details to information about the al-Qaida plot first reported Monday by NBC News, which quoted U.S. officials as saying the terrorist threat assessment was raised over the weekend because of indications that al-Qaida operatives may now be fully trained and licensed pilots for some foreign airlines, ideally positioning them to carry out suicide attacks.

The officials said the threat alert would remain at “orange,” or high, through the end of January, which they said was an indication of its seriousness.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld underscored that message Tuesday at a news briefing at the Pentagon.

“Any time you are asked to do things that you do not normally do at a lower threat level, it costs money and it costs stress,” he said. “… People don’t do that unless it’s a serious situation.”

Al-Qaida may have dirty bomb
Al-Qaida remains intent on attacking large gatherings of people with chemical or biological weapons, officials told NBC News.

Most troubling, the officials said this week, were indications that al-Qaida may already possess a radiological weapon, or so-called “dirty bomb.” They did not elaborate.

Experts said a potent dirty bomb could spread radioactive material for a half-mile in all directions. People in the fallout zone would be bombarded with radiation levels that they would not otherwise be exposed to from natural sources for a full year.

While a dirty bomb may not be particularly deadly, the psychological impact of such a device could be devastating, experts said.

“The point of a dirty bomb is not mass casualties,” Cressey said. “It's much more to instill fear and panic into the general population.”