Report: Al-Qaida Strongest Since Sept. 11
Al-Qaida has rebuilt its operating capability and poses the greatest threat to the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, according to a new assessment from U.S. counterterrorism analysts.
At a White House news conference, however, President Bush disputed the perception that the terror network had not been weakened.
"That's just not the case," he said. "Because of the actions we've taken, al-Qaida is weaker today than before."
The intelligence findings follow Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff statement on Wednesday that he has a "gut feeling" that the United States faces a heightened risk of attack this summer.
A counterterrorism official speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity said the stark appraisal, entitled "Al-Qaida better positioned to strike the West", indicates the terror network that launched the most devastating terror attack on U.S. soil has been able to regroup despite nearly six years of bombings, war and other tactics aimed at dismantling it.
Al-Qaida is "considerably operationally stronger than a year ago" and has "regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001," the counterterrorism official said, paraphrasing the report's conclusions. "They are showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States."
The report says al-Qaida has used its safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border to restore its capabilities.
The analysis is part of a broader meeting at the White House on Thursday about an upcoming National Intelligence Estimate.
Even so, numerous government officials say they know of no specific, credible threat of a new attack on U.S. soil.
The group also has created "the most robust training program since 2001, with an interest in using European operatives," the official quoted the report as saying.
At the same time, this official said, the report speaks of "significant gaps in intelligence" so U.S. authorities may be ignorant of potential or planned attacks.
John Kringen, who heads the CIA's analysis directorate, echoed the concerns about al-Qaida's resurgence during testimony and conversations with reporters at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.
"They seem to be fairly well settled into the safe haven and the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan," Kringen testified. "We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications. We see that activity rising."
The threat assessment comes as the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies prepare a National Intelligence Estimate focusing on threats to the United States. A senior intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity while the high-level analysis was being completed, said the document has been in the works for roughly two years.
Responding to the president's remarks about the report, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Mr. Bush had contradicted himself. The president contended that al-Qaida is weaker than 9/11.
"They can't have it both ways," Reid said.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press
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