Ridge: Al Qaeda Still Poses Big Threat

Ridge: Al Qaeda Still Poses Serious Threat

L O N DO N, Nov. 8 — Al Qaeda militants still pose the most immediate threat to the United States and its allies despite the heavy blows Western forces have struck against them, U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said.

He echoed earlier comments from America's most senior military officer, who declared the al Qaeda network able to launch a "major terrorist operation," whether its leader Osama bin Laden was dead or alive.

And British Home Secretary David Blunkett, who had talks with Ridge in London, said intelligence from around the globe suggested the radical Islamic organization, blamed for last year's Sept. 11 attacks, was continuing to evolve.

"Al Qaeda remains our most immediate and serious threat despite the damage we have done to their network in Afghanistan and elsewhere," Ridge said Thursday in a speech at King's College, London.

Although hundreds of its members had been killed or captured, last month's Bali bombing, an attack on a French oil tanker off Aden, Yemen, and the killing of a U.S. Marine in Kuwait all showed it retained the ability to strike.

"The modus operandi of this organization emphasizes careful planning, tight operational security and exhaustive field preparations — the prerequisites for spectacular operations," Ridge said.

Blunkett warned Britons to remain vigilant.

"There is a considerable amount of intelligence from various parts of the world to indicate that al Qaeda and the cells associated with them are engaged on a continuing, evolving pattern of terrorist activity," he said in a statement.

"Whatever damage we have done to al Qaeda, they continue to operate. They are dedicated fanatical extremists who have no regard for the loss of human life, including their own," he said. "We cannot be sure where or when they will strike. But we can be certain they will try."

A first draft version of Blunkett's statement — mistakenly sent to some journalists then withdrawn — was even more alarming. "Maybe they will try to develop a so-called dirty bomb, or some kind of poison gas; maybe they will try to use boats or trains rather than planes," it warned.

Earlier on Thursday, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told BBC radio al Qaeda's network was so diffuse that even if its leader was dead it could and would strike again.

Ridge agreed, saying that some European sceptics about U.S. action needed to realize that this was a threat unlike any other faced before.

He said the U.S. administration would reshape domestic law enforcement organizations to focus on counterterrorism and was working to break down barriers between its intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The FBI and CIA were heavily criticized after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington in which more than 3,000 people died.

— Reuters

Tennessee Develops Smallpox Immunization Plan

N A S H V I L LE , Tenn., Nov. 8 — Amid heightened concerns about biological warfare, the Tennessee Health Department detailed plans to fight an enemy once thought eradicated: smallpox.

U.S. officials said this week that they believe Iraq is among four nations that have unauthorized samples of smallpox; the others are Russia, North Korea and France.

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, state health officials already were preparing for a possible bioterrorist attack involving smallpox.

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