Sydney Morning Herald – Al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be regrouping in a number of countries including Kenya, Sudan, Pakistan and Chechnya, and preparing to unleash multiple strikes over a short period to prove the network is still viable.
Counter-terrorism officials believe that Saif Adel, the Egyptian said to be al-Qaeda’s new military commander and mastermind of last week’s bombings in Saudi Arabia, is hiding in Iran with other leaders.
These include Saad bin Laden, son of al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden; Abu Mohammed Masri, the network’s head of training; and Abu Musab Zarqawi, who was holed up in Baghdad last year. Another group of leaders is believed to be on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
“There are some senior members of al-Qaeda in Iran . . . who might have had a hand in this,” a Bush Administration official said of the Saudi attacks, which killed 34 people.
US intelligence agencies have also picked up signs just as strong as those before the Saudi bombing that al-Qaeda is plotting further attacks and that they are imminent, US officials said.
The “chatter” among terrorism suspects may be even more definitive than before the co-ordinated car bombings of residential compounds in Riyadh, one official said. Another said the signs were just as strong as before these attacks.
Both officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was not known where al-Qaeda might strike next, but there were potential threats to Western interests in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, east Africa – including Kenya – and South-East Asia, including Indonesia and Malaysia.
The terrorist leaders have begun recruiting members, training them and planning new attacks on Western targets.
Government officials point to the secret arrests in the United States in the past two months of two Arab men who are suspected of having been sent by al-Qaeda leaders to scout fresh targets.
The pair, whom the officials would not identify, were involved in “pre-surveillance”.
They were part of a group of about six al-Qaeda followers arrested over recent months whose presence in the US has led to fears that the group remains determined to carry out further attacks on American soil.
The arrests, along with the Saudi massacre, have provided strong indications that al-Qaeda remains a potent threat, despite setbacks like the capture in March of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the senior operational commander.
“Definitely their capability has been eroded,” said one senior US government official, discussing al-Qaeda’s ability to carry out attacks. “But they are still a threat, they are still sophisticated, they are still fighting and they are still trying to strike in the United States.”
Counter-terrorism officials in the US and Europe suspect that the Saudi bombings marked the group’s resurgence from a period of dormancy that began with the US-led invasion of Iraq two months ago.
They pointed to troubling signs that al-Qaeda had opened new training outposts in east Africa and had redoubled its recruitment push.
One official said the Riyadh bombings and other recent attempted attacks were carried out by “regular al-Qaeda folks, who have moved up into positions of authority because other people have been taken into custody”.
Another official said: “People who were previously below the level of top operational planners are stepping up. But many of the names are familiar to us.”