Report: Al Qaida chiefs to regain power

Updated: 2007-02-20 09:44
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WASHINGTON - Senior leaders of al Qaida operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network, The New York Times reported on Monday.

The newspaper, citing U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism officials, said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden, the al Qaida leader, and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan.

U.S. analysts were quoted as saying that recent intelligence showed that the compounds functioned under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with al Qaida.

They receive guidance from their commanders and Zawahri, and bin Laden appears to have little direct involvement, according to the report.

Groups of 10 to 20 men are being trained at the camps, the officials said, and the al Qaida infrastructure in the region is gradually becoming more mature.

The new warnings are different from those made in recent months by intelligence officials and terrorism experts, who have spoken about the growing ability of Taliban forces and Pakistani militants to launch attacks into Afghanistan.

American officials said that the new intelligence is focused on al Qaida and points to the prospect that the terrorist network is gaining in strength despite more than five years of a sustained American-led campaign to weaken it, the report said.

The concern about a resurgent al Qaida has been the subject of intensive discussion at high levels of the Bush administration, and has reignited debate about how to address Pakistan's role as a haven for militants without undermining the government of Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, the officials said.

Debates within the administration about how to deal with the threat have yet to yield any good solutions, officials in Washington said.

One counter-terrorism official said that some within the Pentagon were advocating American strikes against the camps, but others argued that any raids could result in civilian casualties. And State Department officials said increased American pressure could undermine Musharraf's government, according to the report.