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US senator warns 100 al-Qaeda operatives are inside the US
( 2002-02-24 10:18 ) (7 )

At least 100 al-Qaeda operatives are inside the United States and pose the most immediate threat of a fresh terrorist attack on US soil, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Saturday.

"There are 100 or more al-Qaeda operatives inside the United States, some of whom have been here for a considerable period of time," Senator Bob Graham of Florida said on the CNN program "Novak, Hunt and Shields."

All have been trained "to carry out terrorist plots when they were called upon to do so," said Graham, who receives regular intelligence briefings from the CIA and the FBI.

"That probably is the most immediate threat of a terrorist attack against the United States."

Other international terrorist organizations also have agents inside the United States, Graham added, without elaborating.

Asked to confirm Graham's statement, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to comment.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the high state of alert in the United States remains unchanged.

Earlier this month the US government issued its fifth alert since the September 11 terrorist attacks, warning law enforcement and the general public that terrorists could strike again.

The February 11 warning was the most specific yet, stating that a Yemeni national was believed to be planning an attack in the United States or against US interests in the country of Yemen "on or around" February 12.

The intelligence was gathered in Afghanistan and in interviews of Taliban or al-Qaeda detainees transferred to the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the FBI said in a statement.

No attack materialized on February 12.

Graham said Congress would shortly begin a joint investigation into possible intelligence failures leading up to the September attacks, when 19 men were able simultaneously to board four commercial airliners at US airports and turn them into guided missiles.

"I think the American people deserve and should demand at some point that there be a comprehensive review of what happened before, on and after September 11, and I think that time is now," Graham said.

Congress had waited to allow the FBI and CIA to handle the overwhelming demands of heightened domestic security and the war on terrorism, he said.

CIA Director George Tenet earlier warned that while al-Qaeda continued to present "the most immediate and serious threat," regional terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad could also turn their anger against the United States.

Al-Qaeda has already considered attacks on US soil against high-profile government and private facilities, famous landmarks as well as airports, bridges, harbors and dams, Tenet warned in February 6 Senate testimony.

In the latest scare, the FBI was called in to investigate the theft of government property from the Federal Highway Administration office in Lakewood, Colorado, overnight Thursday to Friday.

Missing hard drives were thought to contain "sensitive information" about Hoover Dam, one of the world's largest dams, located on the Arizona-Nevada border and a major supplier of hydroelectric power and water for the dry US west, FBI official Raul Carballido said.

Police and FBI agents arrested Jennifer Cisney, 24, in Golden, Colorado early Saturday in connection with the theft, Carballido said.

"At this time we believe that she acted alone ... We have also determined that she does not appear to be connected to any terrorist group or organization," he said.



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