Terror Threats and Al Qaeda Tapes: What Do They Mean?

First, it was the chief of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, saying he had a "gut feeling" al Qaeda may attack this summer. He later told ABC's Pierre Thomas: "The threat is very alive."

Then came an official report warning that al Qaeda is stronger.

After that, at a news conference Thursday, President Bush said that may be true but added, "There is a perception in the coverage that al Qaeda may be as strong today as they were prior to September 11. That is simply not the case."

The next day, his spokesman, Tony Snow, said, "That organization was smashed."

So after this whiplash week, who's right? Experts say, believe it or not, they may all be right.

President Bush is right that in the months after 9/11, the United States and its allies greatly weakened al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But then they permitted many to escape across the border into Pakistan.

Michael Scheuer, a former CIA official who is now a terror analyst for the Jamestown Foundation, said, "We've tried to do Afghanistan on the cheap, and it's going to cost us domestically in terms of the next attack in the United States."

The terrorists regained much of their strength when President Bush shifted his main focus to Iraq.

Meanwhile, al Qaeda and its terrorist allies operate freely in the mountains of Pakistan, as viewers were reminded Friday when ABC News showed a Taliban commander bragging that he and his men come and go as they please.

President Bush has refused to send ground troops or launch major air strikes in Pakistan.

"A U.S. military response would be devastating," Seth Jones, a terror expert at the Rand Corporation, told ABC News. "It would lead to major riots throughout Pakistan and the Arab world -- and it would lead certainly to a major insurgency against U.S. forces."

Others disagree, saying the United States has given Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf $10 billion, and he has failed to clear out the terrorists.

"The United States should say to Pakistan," said Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism official at the White House and now an ABC News consultant, "'We're going to eliminate al Qaeda one way or the other. Either you do it and you do it by a certain date, or we'll do it and you don't complain too much.'"

And in a troubling week, a new development came today with the release on several Web sites of a new Osama bin Laden tape in which he praises al Qaeda martyrs.

A U.S. government spokesman told ABC News that it is not yet clear when the tape was done and that no one should assume it is new. The spokesman said the release of such a tape does not necessarily mean that an attack is imminent.

U.S. authorities are closely studying the tape.

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