Friday, August 13, 2004

DAWN: Osama calls for attacks; 2 Turks held in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Osama bin Laden has called for attacks on targets in the United States and Britain, Pakistani intelligence officials said on Wednesday, but it was not clear if his appeal was accompanied by more detailed orders.

"Osama has given the go ahead to target important places and personalities in the US, UK and Pakistan," one Pakistani intelligence source said.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Osama's order emerged during the interrogation of Al Qaeda suspects in Pakistan caught in a month-long crackdown that has dealt the network a major blow.

One of at least three top operatives, Tanzanian Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, also gave authorities information that led to the arrest on Sunday of two Turkish Al Qaeda members linked to an attack on a Jewish target in Turkey and who fought in Chechnya, officials revealed on Wednesday.

Officials say the network's local and global threat has been reduced, but they warn of further attacks by Al Qaeda and local Islamic militant allies in Pakistan who are incensed by the country's decision to back the US-led war on terror.

Wednesday's Washington Times, citing US intelligence officials, said Al Qaeda could be planning to target an American or foreign leader either within the United States or abroad.

The sketch of a plot to target US President George W. Bush surfaced on an online magazine of Al Qaeda's organisation in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. A one-line answer to a Saut al-Jihad reader's query said: "The plan you have drawn up to assassinate Bush is good but would need a lot of preparation."

"Perhaps you can take part in it, if possible, and thanks," the magazine told the reader - named only as Madad - without giving further details. The reader's question was not published.

RED HERRING? A Middle East security expert who reviewed the site said it would be rare for a known Al Qaeda figure to discuss a detailed plan over a Web site. He said, however the message may have some "operational value", but using Bush's name indicated if a plot were afoot, it was in an early stage.

The specific reference could also be a red herring. Pakistani intelligence agencies have been questioning key Al Qaeda figures including Ghailani, wanted for the attacks on US embassies in east Africa in 1998, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, a top al Qaeda operational chief in Pakistan, and computer engineer Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan.

Khan's laptop computer has proved a treasure trove of information on al Qaeda's plans to launch attacks, including in the United States and on Heathrow airport in London. -Reuters

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