Seven linked to al-Qaida sought
|||Vigilance urged in terrorist threat|
Advertiser News Services
WASHINGTON Federal officials sought public help yesterday in finding seven people associated with al-Qaida and warned that terrorists are plotting an attack inside the United States this summer.
Adnan G. El Shukrijumah
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed
Adam Yahiye Gadahn
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller said they were launching a round of interviews with citizens across the country aimed at developing further intelligence about the possible attacks, setting up a special task force to coordinate the effort.
The seven people being sought vary by age and ethnicity, but several seem able to adapt to U.S. culture. They include one woman, Aafia Siddiqui, a 32-year-old Pakistani who attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology until January 2003. Before that she studied at Brandeis University. FBI officials say they believe she has returned to Pakistan.
The American, Adam Yahiye Gadahn, who also goes by the name Adam Pearlman, is a 25-year-old who converted to Islam in his teens. He is not believed to have been in the United States since at least before the Sept. 11 attacks.
The FBI described Gadahn as an associate of a former top al-Qaida lieutenant, Abu Zubaydah, who was once linked to a plot by a group of Algerian terrorists to bomb Los Angeles International Airport in December 1999. Zubaydah is now in U.S. custody.
Mueller and Ashcroft declined to speculate on the whereabouts of any of the individuals but said they should be considered armed and dangerous.
Gadahn was described by Mueller as having attended al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan, and served as a translator to the terrorist network.
The FBI is also looking for: Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, who has lived in the United States for years, and has tried to re-enter the country using various passports; Amer El-Maati, a 41-year-old Kuwaiti and licensed pilot who is believed to have discussed hijacking a plane in Canada to fly into a building in the United States; and Abderraoup Jdey, a 35-year-old Tunisian with Canadian citizenship who left a suicide message on videotapes found in the rubble of an al-Qaida military chief's house.
Agents are also still searching for Fazul Abdullah Mohammed of the Comoros Islands and Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani of Tanzania, who have been indicted in the 1998 East Africa bombings.
At the news conference, Ashcroft and Mueller said the round of interviews would be fashioned after an FBI-led interview program that was launched before the war with Iraq. Those interviews focused on Muslim neighborhoods, and raised concerns that people were being unfairly targeted, although Ashcroft said the exercise produced valuable intelligence that "protected American lives."
Threat level unchanged
Ashcroft said the new Threat Task Force would focus on the potential developing threat over the summer and fall, coordinating intelligence, analysis and field operations. An FBI official said the composition of the panel had not yet been decided.
The moves were driven by what the officials said was a troubling flow of new intelligence indicating that al-Qaida was in the final stages of preparing an attack. They also reiterated concerns that the national political conventions this summer, among other upcoming high-profile events, pose inviting and worrisome targets for terrorists.
But officials also said they had no information indicating the timing, location or methods of any anticipated attacks.
And the Department of Homeland Security said it had no plans to raise the national threat level, which has been at yellow, or "elevated," the midpoint of a five-level scale, since January, because there was no information pointing to an imminent attack.
Some Democratic members of Congress, and union supporters of presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, said the timing of the threat report might have been intended to distract attention from the deteriorating situation in Iraq.
But White House press secretary Scott McClellan denied that politics was involved. "The president believes it's very important to share information appropriately," McClellan said.
Ashcroft said the intelligence, along with other factors, pointed to a potentially dangerous season that required renewed public vigilance and stepped-up law enforcement oversight.
"This disturbing intelligence indicates al-Qaida's specific intention to hit the United States hard," Ashcroft said, citing "credible intelligence from multiple sources" that terrorists plan to attempt an attack in the next few months.
Eerily similar intercepts
Several U.S. officials have said recently they have received a steady influx of generalized but solid intelligence showing that al-Qaida remains determined to infiltrate operatives into the United States and launch strikes on U.S. soil.
Many of those bits of intelligence have been unrelated. Some have indicated that the terror organization would like to time an attack to coincide with one of the political conventions, the Group of Eight summit in Georgia in June or other symbolic events to reassert its influence on the world stage.
Authorities have intercepted a stream of "linked" intelligence that points to one particular attack on a massive scale, according to one just-retired senior federal law enforcement official who is familiar with the current intelligence.
"There are some pretty credible threats, one in particular," said the former official, who spoke only on the condition he not be identified. He said much of that intelligence has come in recent months from intercepts of communications from one particular country, and that it is eerily similar to intelligence chatter just before Sept. 11, 2001, in which unidentified operatives spoke in expectant tones about some huge and imminent event.
Some of the linked intelligence points to a major attack on a choke point in the rail system somewhere along the Northeast corridor, from New York to Washington, and perhaps Boston to the north, said the former official.