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CIA voice in al Qaida alert

Washington, Feb. 11 (Reuters): CIA director George Tenet said today that al Qaida remained a threat to the US and information showed Osama bin Laden’s network had established a presence in Iraq and Iran.

Tenet also told a Senate intelligence committee hearing the latest increase in the national-alert level was prompted by more specific information tied to al Qaida.

“I can tell you that the threat from al Qaida remains, even though we have made important strides in the war against terrorism,” Tenet said.

He said the US raised the threat level to orange, the second highest, last week because of threat reports from multiple sources with “strong al Qaida ties”.

He added that the intelligence information was “not idle chatter on the part of terrorists and their associates” but was the most specific that US intelligence agencies had seen.

“The information we have points to plots aimed at targets on two fronts — in the United States and on the Arabian peninsula. It points to plots timed to occur as early as the end of the Haj, which occurs late this week,” Tenet said.

“And it points to plots that could include the use of a radiological dispersion device as well as poisons and chemicals,” he said, referring to devices similar to the so-call “dirty bomb”.

Tenet’s public testimony comes as the US might be on the verge of war with Iraq, North Korea has threatened to resume its nuclear program, and Iran said it was poised to enrich uranium to fuel its nuclear energy programme.

“We see disturbing signs that al Qaida has established a presence in both Iran and Iraq,” Tenet said. “In addition, we are concerned that al Qaida continues to find refuge in the hinterlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Senators at the hearing were expected to ask Tenet why Iraq was considered a more imminent threat than North Korea and Iran — what President George W. Bush calls the “axis of evil” — and whether a US invasion of Iraq would increase terrorist threats against the US.

FBI director Robert Mueller also testified about threats facing the US, mainly from al Qaida, which Washington blames for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed about 3,000 people.

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