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U.S. stopped al-Qaida plots against troops

By SHAUN WATERMAN   |   April 22, 2003 at 2:40 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, April 22 (UPI) -- U.S. intelligence agencies and their allies disrupted a number of terrorist threats -- including some from al-Qaida against U.S. troops in the Gulf -- during the war against Iraq, U.S. officials have told United Press International.

"There were a number of disruptions to terrorist efforts around the world over the last month or so," a U.S. intelligence official told UPI, adding that some of the efforts were by al-Qaida operatives.

"Rolled up is probably too precise a phrase," the official, who requested anonymity, went on, "If you think of it as someone snuffing out a burning fuse, that's not the case, but people who were planning bad things have ended up getting deported or arrested or detained."

Another government official, who also asked not to be named, confirmed the account, saying, "Al-Qaida plots against U.S. troops in the Gulf were disrupted during the war."

Rep. Porter J. Goss, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said, "I'm not going to be specific, but yes there have been disruptions. I won't say what disruptions where and I won't say when."

Disruption is an intelligence term of art. "It means a plan was interfered with. It didn't take place," says Vincent Cannistraro, former counter-terrorism chief for the CIA. "You don't necessarily (apprehend) everyone involved -- you may not get anyone -- but the people who were going to do something are not able to do it for one reason or another."

Other U.S. officials point out that this has been happening almost continuously since the Sept. 11, 2001. They stress that threats are disrupted almost every day.

Analysts concur. "Al-Qaida members are constantly plotting against the United States," said Ben Venzke, a private sector counter-terrorism analyst who consults for U.S. government agencies. "And they are constantly having to change or abandon those plans because of the aggressive prosecution of the war on terror."

With no independent confirmation and with officials unwilling to speak for the record or -- citing security concerns -- provide specific details, it is impossible to judge how serious the threats were; how near to completion plots were; how significant the targets; or the scale or location of any planned attacks.

But the claim that attacks were averted highlights the question of the degree to which al-Qaida -- given its failure to successfully stage any attacks during the war -- poses a continuing threat to the United States and its interests.

It's a subject on which knowledgeable people disagree.

"Al-Qaida is on the run ... we are pretty much sure that the network has been broken, that the organization is in disarray," said Mohammad Sadiq, deputy chief of mission of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.

He said that the group was dealt a fatal blow by the arrest of so many of its top leaders, notably Khalid Sheik Mohammed. "In many ways he was more important to the organization than Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is a symbolic figure, but it was Sheik Khalid who was running the operations."

Bin Laden is considered to be behind many of al-Qaida's attacks, including the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackings.

Sadiq said the arrests have crippled al-Qaida. "They couldn't stage an attack like they did before. ... The clear indications are that they are much, much weaker than they were a year or a year and a half ago."

He had no specific information about arrests or interdictions resulting from the arrest of Mohammed, but says it was a "very big catch ... This whole operation is highly classified, but the indications were there. The intelligence community was very happy."

By contrast, the U.S. intelligence official says that successes in the war on terror have disrupted the al-Qaida network only "a bit."

"The capture of Khalid Sheik Mohammad has thrown them off their feet," he said, but added, "I would not get complacent. Something could still happen at any time."

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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