`Next wave' of terrorists taking shape
Intelligence chiefs warn Senate of peril amid rising anti-Americanism
Published February 25, 2004
WASHINGTON -- Even if Al Qaeda is crushed, terrorist threats will remain because of a global surge in anti-Americanism, the emergence of dozens of groups representing terrorism's "next wave" and the worldwide spread of Al Qaeda's philosophy and "destructive expertise," the nation's top intelligence officials said Tuesday.
Still, CIA Director George Tenet and Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said Osama bin Laden's network itself remains the greatest immediate threat to Americans.
Both men, although striking slightly different chords, emphasized the growing and long-term danger from virulent anti-Americanism worldwide and the spread of what Tenet likened to a disease.
"Al Qaeda has infected others with its ideology, which depicts the United States as Islam's greatest foe," Tenet said.
He also emphasized that his main message to senators was this: The spread of bin Laden's anti-American sentiment, "and the broad dissemination of Al Qaeda's destructive expertise, ensure that a serious threat will remain for the foreseeable future--with or without Al Qaeda in the picture."
Jacoby cited a large decline in positive public opinion toward the United States in describing a climate in the Islamic world that provides sustenance for radicals.
Plunge in support for U.S.
"Support for America has dropped in most of the Muslim world," Jacoby said in a statement to the committee. Favorable ratings for the U.S. among Moroccans dropped to 27 percent a year ago from 77 percent in 2000, he said. In Jordan, a key partner in the war on terrorism, those rates went to 1 percent last May from an already dismal 25 percent in 2002.
All of this, Jacoby said, is increasing pressure on governments that are important to U.S. efforts against terrorism.
Jacoby and Tenet, along with FBI Director Robert Mueller, testified Tuesday during the committee's annual hearing on current and anticipated threats to U.S. national security.
The environment for the hearing was dramatically different from last year, when the Bush administration was poised to attack Iraq over Saddam Hussein's alleged stockpiles of banned weapons and purported links to Al Qaeda.
Tenet stated definitively last year, "I think we will find caches of weapons of mass destruction, absolutely."
No such weapons have been found, but Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, asked members to hold questions about lapses in the Iraq intelligence until a closed-door hearing with Tenet scheduled for next week.
Although Tenet and Jacoby were careful not to place U.S. policies toward Iraq at the center of their alarms about the spread of anti-Americanism, those policies are clearly a key source of the troubles described by the intelligence leaders.
Iraq's future as terror base
Jacoby went so far as to say that Iraq could become like the Soviet-occupied Afghanistan of the 1980s--a magnet for extremists and "a training ground for the next generation of terrorists."
Senior U.S. officials have previously rejected comparisons between Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, unwilling to lend credence to suggestions that the war against Hussein might have created more terrorist dangers than it vanquished.
But Jacoby said in his written statement, "Iraq is the latest jihad for Sunni extremists."
He also said Iraq has the potential to become the place "where novice [terrorist] recruits develop their skills, junior operatives hone their organizational and planning capabilities" and relationships among terrorists mature, "as was the case during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and extremist operations in the Balkans."
Al Qaeda was born during the U.S.-financed efforts to train and arm Muslim fighters from around the world who were recruited into Afghanistan to fight America's Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union. Bin Laden's group became the most high-profile to emerge, but other so-called Afghan alumni founded or joined extremist organizations worldwide after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan.
Tenet did not make the comparison between Iraq and Soviet-occupied Afghanistan on Tuesday, but he did say, "The foreign jihadists see Iraq as a golden opportunity."
In detailing the threat beyond bin Laden, Tenet also said that even as Al Qaeda "reels from our blows, other extremist groups within the movement it influenced have become the next wave of the terrorist threat."
Not all of these groups are "creatures of bin Laden," he said, "and so their fate is not tied to his. They have autonomous leadership, they pick their own targets, they plan their own attacks."
For the growing number of Islamic militants worldwide interested in attacking the U.S., a spectacular assault on American soil "is the brass ring that many strive for--with or without encouragement by Al Qaeda's central leadership," Tenet said.
As for bin Laden, Tenet suggested the terrorist leader might be out of action, at least temporarily. "Bin Laden has gone deep underground," he said, without elaborating.
Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune
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