In U.S., Terrorism's Peril Undiminished

(Washington Post) Barton Gellman - U.S. exposure to ruinous attack, more than 15 months into the war with al Qaeda, remains unbounded. The global campaign launched by President Bush has destroyed Osama bin Laden's Afghan sanctuary, drained his financial resources, scattered his foot soldiers, and killed or captured some of his most dangerous lieutenants. But there is nothing al Qaeda was capable of doing on Sept. 11, 2001, that is now beyond its reach. Retired Army Gen. Wayne Downing, President Bush's deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism until July 8, who granted no interviews during his White House tenure, describes the threat: "They're not 10 feet tall, they're not supermen, and in a lot of cases they're very primitive, but they are probably more capable than before." "Most sobering to me was their research on chemical weapons, radiological dispersion devices, and their fascination with nuclear weapons. They are obsessed with them." Al Qaeda returned on Sept. 11, 2001, to the World Trade Center, which allied terrorists nearly succeeded in toppling in a 1993 bombing. It failed, then succeeded, in attempts to kill an American diplomat in Amman, Jordan. And after missing the USS The Sullivans in port in Yemen in January 2000, al Qaeda mounted an identical attack with an explosives-laden boat - this time successful - against the USS Cole eight months later. "These guys continue to go back after targets they have tried to get before. That's why I expect they're going to go back to Washington and New York, both because of the symbolic impact of those attacks and the economic effect." "Certainly they've been blooded, which has strengthened their misguided commitment to their cause. Those who have survived have learned valuable lessons. They have adapted, decentralized their organization, grown new leaders. They have had to find new ways of operating. This makes them more dangerous."

2002-12-25 00:00:00

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