Report: Congress told more attacks probable

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. intelligence officials have warned members of Congress it is highly probable that militants linked to extremist Osama bin Laden will attempt another major attack on American targets at home or abroad in the near future, the Washington Post reported Friday.

The threat assessment, based on what officials described as credible new information, was presented at a classified briefing Tuesday by officials from the FBI, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Post said in an article authored by staff writers Susan Schmidt and Bob Woodward.

One official said there was a "100 percent chance" of an attack should the United States strike Afghanistan, which has repeatedly rejected U.S. demands to hand over bin Laden -- the man Washington blames for the September 11 hijack attacks on New York and Washington. One senior official said some of the new information is "very real," but also cautioned that some may be braggadocio or intentional disinformation designed to discourage the United States from retaliating, the Post said.

The United States has been massing military forces in the Gulf region and has warned Afghanistan it faces possible strikes if bin Laden is not turned over.

The new information comes from sources in England, Germany, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and officials believe Egyptian, Somali and Pakistani elements of bin Laden's al Qaeda extremist network may be involved, the newspaper said.

Members of Congressional intelligence committees declined to comment on the briefings, which are classified. But the Post reported that officials at the White House, the Justice Department and State Department have been discussing the best way to convey the new concern to the public.
 
Attorney General John Ashcroft said Sunday the government foresaw "substantial risks" of further attacks on the United States after the Sept. 11 strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which left more than 5,700 people reported dead or missing.

'You can just about bet on it'

Still, senior U.S. officials led by President George W. Bush have also repeatedly urged Americans to resume normal activities such as air travel, which was virtually brought to a halt following the Sept. 11 attacks.

"We have to believe there will be another attempt by a terrorist group to hit us again," Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Post.

"You can just about bet on it. That's just something you have to believe will happen." The Post said officials were concerned about potential attacks at any of hundreds or even thousands of locations including "symbols of American power and culture" such as government buildings or entertainment centers.

They are concerned about car bombs or truck bombs exploding near natural gas lines or power plants, as well as possible chemical or biological attacks, the Post said.

But U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies do not have specific information on the nature of future attack threats, it said.

The FBI has found no links between any of the 19 alleged hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attacks or their possible accomplices and any of the 1,000 to 2,000 suspected extremist sympathizers in the United States, including known al Qaeda supporters, the Post reported -- raising the possibility that more such "closed cells" of militants may be operating undetected in the country.

To head off any future attacks, the FBI has plans to go "full tilt" for 72 hours whenever the United States makes a move against bin Laden, al Qaeda, or Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, the Post reported, citing a senior law enforcement official.

A senior government official told the Post that, if al Qaeda follows its normal pattern, further attacks were in various stages of planning and were likely to "mix tactics and targets."

Under that theory, aircraft hijackings were seen as less likely because security has been increased, while ground-based operations were seen as more probable, the Post said.

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