U.S. seeks help over new al Qaeda video tapes
By Deborah Charles
Friday January 18, 6:17 AM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. officials on Thursday launched an international appeal for help in finding five men shown in video tapes recovered from a house used by members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda group in Afghanistan.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said U.S. officials have disseminated copies of pictures and video excerpts of the five individuals to law enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world in hopes they would help to "identify, locate and and incapacitate" those who might be planning additional attacks on the United States.
Members of al Qaeda have been blamed for the September 11 attacks which killed more than 3,000 people in New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon in Washington and on an aircraft which crashed in Pennsylvania.
Ashcroft said the videos appeared to show "martyrdom messages" from would-be attackers.
The four-minutes of video excerpts -- presented without sound -- show three men speaking and gesturing to the camera. One man, identified as Khalid ibn Muhammad al-Juhani, was shown caressing and embracing his assault rifle then flashing a wide grin.
"Analysis of the audio portion of these tapes conducted thus far suggests, based on statements made on the tapes, that the men may be trained and prepared to commit future suicide terrorist acts," Ashcroft told a news conference.
The audio was muted out on the video distributed by the Justice Department. Ashcroft said U.S. investigators needed to complete an analysis of the tape and a translation and had not yet determined whether they will release the sound.
"We...are asking for the public's assistance in further identifying and locating the individuals on the tapes so that additional investigation can be made," Ashcroft said. "Investigators note that these men could be anywhere in the world," he added.
VIDEOS FOUND IN THE RUBBLE
The video excerpts and still photographs released on Thursday came from five tapes which were found in the rubble of the house of Muhammad Atef, a top al Qaeda official who the United States says was killed in November by American warplanes in Afghanistan.
In addition to the video, the Justice Department released photographs of five men -- the three in the video, one unidentified man and Ramzi Binalshibh.
A U.S. official said American authorities knew about several of the men, including Binalshibh, before the videotapes were found.
Binalshibh, a Yemeni national wanted by Germany in the Sept. 11 attacks, has tried to enter the United States three times but was denied a visa each time.
Binalshibh was named as unindicted co-conspirator in the indictment of Zacarias Moussaoui -- a French national charged with conspiring with Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network. Moussaoui is awaiting trial in Alexandria, Virginia.
Binalshibh and the unidentified man were not shown on the videotape excerpts.
A man identified by the Justice Department as Muhammad Sa'id Ali Hasan, wearing a black and white headdress tied Taliban style, was shown looking down and apparently reading a statement.
Abd al-Rahim, bearded but not wearing any headdress, appeared in front of a white background while he spoke and gestured in front of the camera.
Al-Juhani was more graphic in the obviously edited excerpts, and was shown for nearly 60 seconds. He embraced and cradled his rifle and put his lips to the gun before flashing a wide grin to the camera.
Swiss broaden Taliban fund search, freeze $24 mln
Friday January 18, 2:09 AM
BERNE, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Swiss authorities added more names on Thursday to the list of people believed linked to Afghanistan's toppled Taliban rulers or Osama bin Laden and said they had so far frozen some $24 million in dozens of accounts.
Eight names joined the roster of suspected sympathisers to the hardline Islamic Taliban and adherents of bin Laden, who is accused by the United States of masterminding the September 11 attacks on U.S. landmarks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
The economy ministry did not name the eight and officials were not immediately available for comment.
Switzerland removed the Afghan central bank and Ariana Aghan Airlines from the blacklist of people and organisations whose assets must be frozen by banks and reported to authorities.
The steps put Switzerland in line with United Nations resolutions.
The ministry said funds worth around 40 million Swiss francs
($24.05 million) had been blocked to date in around 70 bank accounts
Japan seeks diplomatic bang for Afghan buck
Thursday January 17, 6:30 PM
TOKYO (Reuters) - Saddled with a huge public debt and slumping economy, but keen to be a big player on the global stage, Japan is trying to calculate how to get the biggest diplomatic bang for its bucks to help rebuild war-torn Afghanistan.
Japan, one of four co-chairs of a donors' conference here next week, is considering a pledge of about $500 million over the next 2-Â½ years for Afghanistan's tattered economy and society, about one-tenth of the estimated total short-term cost.
But Tokyo, limited by its pacifist constitution to a supporting role in the U.S.-led war, may end up promising more.
"Japan's fiscal situation is not very good, but it is only natural that as host country to the conference we make substantial efforts to rebuild Afghanistan," Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Kenshiro Matsunami told Reuters.
"It may not be settled with that figure," said Matsunami, who heads the Japan-Afghanistan Association of lawmakers.
Japan last year enacted a law that allowed it to dispatch naval vessels to the Indian Ocean to provide logistical support for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan -- its first military deployment in a war situation since World War Two.
But its constitutional ban on war to settle international disputes kept Tokyo from sending troops to the war zone.
"Japan is exploring all avenues to see how it can be seen as more of a player," one diplomatic source said.
However, Japanese officials were at pains to deny that Japan would offer a large share of the aid money to make up for its backseat role in the war.
"It is not compensation or a proxy or a substitute for military power," said one government source. "We have to join with the international community to assist the poorest people."
The European Union, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the United States are co-chairing next week's meeting and are expected to pledge the heftiest chunk of funds for a rebuilding process which aid experts have estimated will cost some $15 billion over 10 years.
Sadako Ogata, the outspoken former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees tapped as Japan's special envoy on Afghanistan, has said Tokyo should put up about 20 percent of the cost, though on Thursday she explained that that was merely a goal.
"I think we need to indicate our stance to provide what is needed, making 20 percent the maximum," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told a news conference on Thursday.
"We need to see what is needed," Fukuda added.
Officials said the cabinet was due to approve nearly $50 million in immediate aid at a meeting on Friday.
Ogata's target seems to have put her at odds with some finance mandarins, who are poised to cut Japan's budget for overseas aid as part of a drive to get a grip on a public debt already the highest among advanced nations.
That budget will be slashed by 10 percent in the fiscal year from April, although the cuts will not affect the grant aid which will be awarded to Afghanistan in the first phases of rebuilding.
"She is a problem for the finance ministry because she wants to spend huge sums and because her position and the support she has at the Foreign Ministry means it is extremely difficult for the government to say 'No'," said one Western political analyst.
"If she doesn't get the money, she might go up on a platform and say the government is stingy," the analyst added.
Faced with voters worried about the government's red ink and weary of sending heaps of tax yen abroad, Japanese politicians are keen to ensure Tokyo's contribution stands out by giving the funds on a bilateral basis.
"Not just Japan, but every country wants to give visible aid," Matsunami told Reuters.
"It is difficult for any country unless we can explain to our taxpayers that we built this hospital, this museum...this dam."
Other big donors have the same stance, arguing that bilateral aid is not only more palatable to voters but more accountable on the ground.
That puts them at odds with multilateral bodies like the World Bank. They say funds should be pooled in a trust fund to be run by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank with Afghanistan's interim government in order to maximise efficiency.
"It is a hot issue, the trust fund issue," World Bank President James Wolfensohn said earlier this week.
"There is a compelling case to say there is a need for some sort of trust fund."
Thursday January 17, 6:04 PM
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Don't let Malaysia become another Afghanistan has been the government's message shown nightly on state television over the past few weeks.
Using news footage of U.S. bombs exploding and a woman being executed under the Taliban, the 90-second broadcast is a crude message, contrasting mediaeval Afghanistan with modern Malaysia.
But then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Asia's longest serving elected leader, has hardly put a foot wrong since the September 11 attacks on the United States in his own campaign to turn the tide against Muslim fundamentalists.
"Undoubtedly the government has hit all the right notes after September 11," Chandra Muzzafar, the former deputy president of the opposition Parti Keadilan Nasional, told Reuters in grudging admiration for the 76-year-old Mahathir's political nous.
With a by-election at stake this week, opposition parties have protested at the scary propaganda.
"It is meant to inform the people. It's not directed against any one political party," says an Information Ministry official.
The ministry is also planning a programme on the police showdown with a violent Muslim deviationist group in the mid-80s, that ended with 14 villagers being shot dead.
With the mainstream media all government friendly and a ban on public gatherings, Mahathir is winning hands down in the propaganda stakes at home.
His police locked up suspected local militants -- mostly supporters of the fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS).
With an eye to a wider audience, Mahathir condemned both the carnage of September 11 and the bombing of Afghanistan and he stuck up for the Palestinians in their struggle against Israeli occupation.
Peace and prosperity are prized above all in this country of 23 million, where 55 percent are Muslim Malays, 25 percent Buddhist and Christian Chinese and eight percent Hindu Indians.
"I think the political landscape changed not just because of September 11, it began in May-June with the arrest of some men linked to PAS," said Chandra, who is now an independent analyst.
Police say some of the suspects have links to the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, alleged mastermind behind the attacks on the United States.
Around 40 men have been arrested under the Internal Security Act, which allows detention without trial for up to two years.
Chandra said PAS had been weak in its defence of the detainees, who include a son of the party's spiritual leader.
But then the opposition is in disarray across the board.
PAS's dream of an Islamic state prompted a Chinese ally, the Democratic Action Party, to quit their alliance in September.
And the opposition Parti Keadilan Nasional, which champions the cause of Anwar Ibrahim, Mahathir's former deputy who is serving 15 years in jail, is riven by factionalism that saw Chandra quit late last year. PAS condemned the attacks on the United States, but its reaction to the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan hardly helped banish images of a party harbouring hotheads.
An ugly demonstration outside the U.S. embassy and exhortations to join a "jihad" in support of poor Afghans left PAS leaders having to explain how they were not endorsing a holy war.
The PAS leadership has also failed to state clearly how its hazy vision of an Islamic state is not that of another Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Mahathir supporters labelled PAS the "Taliban of Malaysia". PAS called his United Malays National Organisation the "U.S. of Malaysia" as the political debate turned into a slanging match.
While fears of politicised Islam, terrorism, and the opposition split have tipped momentum in Mahathir's favour, he's still got to work hard to win back Malay votes going into a year which may decide the date of the next election.
"What happened with the opposition and September 11 has given Mahathir a big boost, but that does not translate into winning back the votes lost in 1999 and 2000," said Khoo Boo Teik, political scientist at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang.
Due by the end of 2004, and widely expected in 2003, Mahathir may decide to call an election late this year or early next.
Saturday's by-election at Indera Kayangan in the northern state of Perlis will not provide much of a barometer.
PAS did make inroads in Perlis in the 1999 elections, but this constituency is urban and half Chinese. Both the candidates are Chinese and belong to junior partners in the ruling and opposition coalitions.
But it is expected to confirm that the Chinese vote has consolidated behind Mahathir after wavering early last year.
Analysts say their vote along with the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, which came out overwhelmingly in favour of the government in state elections last September, will give Mahathir a solid base from which to lead what surely will be his last charge at the next election.
Thursday January 17, 5:46 PM AFP
Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived here on a brief but historic visit to Afghanistan bearing promises of US aid for the war-shattered nation before continuing his mission to the region by heading to India.
Powell came into Afghanistan under extremely tight security, as remnants of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network are still roaming the Afghan countryside and US troops and aircraft are still hunting them.
The secretary arrived under a total news blackout, flying in to Bagram Air Base from Islamabad on a military transport plane and then taking Chinook helicopters, trailed by at least three smaller Blackhawk attack helicopters to Kabul, skirting the rugged terrain at very low altitude.
Powell, the first US secretary of state to visit Afghanistan in 25 years, told the interim Afghan government that Washington would not abandon the country as it struggles to rebuild after decades of civil war and strife.
"We will be with you in this current crisis and in the future," Powell said after meeting with interim Afghan president Hamid Karzai, calling the current situation in the country a "time of challenge but also... a time of hope."
"We are committed to doing everything we can to assist you in this time of transition... so the Afghan people will be able to live in peace and security," he said.
Karzai, standing beside Powell at Kabul's presidential palace, welcomed Powell with open arms, describing him as a "distinguished world personality, a very tough solider and a top diplomat and an excellent human being."
He praised Powell for taking the "time to to visit Afghnistan, to visit, to take the risks to come here. The Afghan people appreciate it."
Karzai said the Afghan people had questioned whether the United States would remain involved in the country even after the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's terrorist al-Qaeda network had been cleansed from the country but that Powell's visit now allowed him to answer affirmatively.
The visit "shows to us the commitment of the United States of America... now I can tell them 'Yes', the United States is committed."
Karzai said he had told Powell of the extreme needs of his administration which is now in dire need of additional funds and as if to demonstrate that point joked that a power outage that hit the palace just as their joint news conference was to begin was intended as a demonstration of the problem.
Powell said Washington would make a significant contribution to Afghan reconstruction at a donor's conference for the country next week in Tokyo that he will attend, but was unable to offer a specific amount although he said it would be "significant."
Powell's South Asia peace mission then moved to India, where he will push for a resumption of dialogue with Pakistan and a cooling of military tensions between the nuclear rivals.
Following talks in Islamabad before his stopover in Afghanistan, Powell was expected to meet his Indian counterpart Jaswant Singh later in the day.
Despite publicly rejecting the title of "mediator" -- India opposes any move that might be construed as third-party intervention in its disputes with Pakistan -- Powell has become a crucial go-between.
US engagement in Indo-Pakistan relations has intensified significantly since the South Asian neighbours went on a war footing last month, and Powell's visit to the region caps weeks of hectic telephone diplomacy by Washington.
His mission is as difficult as it is ambitious, seeking a resumption of dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi on Kashmir, a lifting of tit-for-tat sanctions and military de-escalation on the border.
"The United States is trying to encourage both sides to create conditions that will allow the beginning of such a dialogue," Powell said after talks with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday.
India insists nothing can be achieved before Musharraf fully implements pledges to crack down on militant groups it accuses of carrying out terrorist operations here, including the December 13 attack on the parliament in New Delhi.
Pakistan, meawhile, wants India to show good faith by agreeing to a mutual pull-back of troops massed on the border.
"It is in our mutual interest to step back," Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said during a joint press conference with Powell.
Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir and there are now an estimated 800,000 troops massed on the borders, prompting widespread fears of an escalation to another all-out conflict.
But Powell insisted that for the moment, resuming the dialogue was even more important than reducing troop numbers.
Powell, who said before he left Washington that he would counsel India to be patient with Musharraf, noted that the president was taking promised steps to address Indian concerns although he needed to do more.
Pakistani authorities have arrested around 1,900 alleged extremists since Musharraf delivered a landmark speech on Saturday in which he announced a crackdown on extremist organizations, including banning five such groups.
India's hawkish Home Minister L.K. Advani hailed Musharraf's speech but said border tensions could only ease once the president delivered on his pledge.
Thursday January 17, 5:27 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell pledged Washington would stand by Afghanistan for the long haul on Thursday, after hearing interim leader Hamid Karzai say Afghans were unsure about the strength of America's commitment.
Powell, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Kabul in 25 years, said Washington would make a significant contribution to a reconstruction fund to be launched at a donors' conference in Tokyo early next week.
The U.S. official met Karzai in the former royal palace in central Kabul after Powell's Asian tour brought him to the war-shattered capital for a few hours squeezed in on his way from Pakistan to India. He plans to attend the Tokyo conference next Monday and Tuesday.
"We will be with you in this current crisis and for the future," Powell said at a news conference with Karzai after meeting the interim prime minister and some of his cabinet.
"We are committed to doing everything we can to assist you in this time of transition to a new Afghanistan, an Afghanistan where people will be able to live in peace and security."
Karzai diplomatically reminded Powell that many Afghans wondered whether Washington would abandon them after full victory over the former Taliban leadership, as it did after U.S.-backed rebels drove Soviet troops out in 1989.
"In all our meetings with the Afghan people, they ask us -- 'Is the United States committed? Will they stay with us?'" said Karzai, who wore his trademark bright green Uzbek overcoat and Persian lamb hat.
"Now I can tell them, 'Yes, the U.S. will stay with us.'"
Asked what Kabul wanted besides money, Karzai returned to the commitment theme to say: "We are asking for a partnership that is much longer in years."
SUMS FOR THE COLLECTION PLATE
Powell said Washington had paid its promised $1 million into a United Nations "start-up fund" to provide Kabul with money it desperately needs to pay salaries and equip government offices with such basic items as desks and chairs.
As for the larger amounts due to be pledged in Tokyo, he said: "In keeping with the American tradition, as the collection plate is passed, the United States will make a significant contribution."
He declined to cite a figure.
Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah also declined to give any figure for what Kabul wants to get in Tokyo.
Afghan officials have given estimates ranging from $22 billion to $45 billion over a 10-year period. The U.N., World Bank and Asian Development Bank have estimated Kabul's needs at $15 billion over the next 10 years.
Powell was the highest-ranking U.S. leader to visit Kabul since Henry Kissinger stopped here in 1976.
Karzai, who has lived in the United States and speaks English fluently, thanked Washington for the military campaign that helped topple the five-year Taliban rule and install his interim administration in December.
He promised that his administration, which will be replaced in five months by a transitional government chosen by a traditional Loya Jirga (grand council), would help create a democracy and be very tough on corruption.
"One area where we'll be extremely tough and rather oppressive will be against corruption," he said. "We'll be very, very tough there. We cannot allow that, we know that if we allow that the country will not do very well."
"WARLORDISM IS OVER"
Karzai said his government could absorb foreign aid and spend it wisely as it battles to curb insecurity and consolidate its rule.
"We are trying to help the institutions that will have the capability to absorb money and then spend it in Afghanistan," he said.
"Be sure that warlordism is over...we will make sure it is over, and there too...we'll have the help of the United States."
He said Afghanistan would stop the uncontrolled printing of the afghani currency, which has been issued in nearly identical forms by both the former government and opposing factions, and would allow foreign banks to operate.
Powell arrived from Pakistan, flying into Kabul's international airport by helicopter after his plane landed at the Soviet-built Bagram air base north of the city.
As he arrived, a U.S. military helicopter bristling with machine guns flew low over the city surveying areas where his convoy would drive.
Asked if Washington planned to commit troops to the British- led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Powell said: "The United States presence here is still directed towards pulling up al Qaeda and Taliban. We don't want to leave any contamination behind."
Afghanistan's long-term security depended on building up a national army and effective police force, he said.
ISAF currently has about 1,400 of the 4,500 foreign troops due to assist Afghan security forces in keeping peace in Kabul.
Thursday January 17, 3:51 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Afghanistan on Thursday, saying Washington would stand by the war-shattered country for a long time to come and planned a significant contribution to its reconstruction.
Powell, meeting Afghan leaders brought to power through U.S. bombing, said the U.S. military presence in the country was still directed at uprooting remnants of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and the former ruling Taliban.
"We will be with you in this current crisis and for the future," Powell told a joint news conference with Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai.
"We are committed to doing everything we can to assist you in this time of transition to a new Afghanistan, an Afghanistan where people will be able to live in peace and security."
Powell, on an Asian tour dominated by confrontation between India and Pakistan, was the highest ranking U.S. leader in the Central Asian country since then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger stopped there in 1976.
Powell said financial assistance for the interim government had dominated his talks with Karzai and the United States would be offering significant support.
"In keeping with the American tradition, as the collection plate is passed, the United States will make a significant contribution," Powell said.
The World Bank estimates Afghanistan's reconstruction will cost $15 billion over 10 years.
Since the late 1970s, Afghanistan has been through a Soviet invasion, 10 years of Muslim mujahideen resistance, a civil war among guerrilla factions and five years of rule by the fundamentalist Taliban, routed by the U.S. military last November.
Karzai took office as head of an interim administration backed by the United States on December 22 with promises to keep the country free of extremist groups such as al Qaeda.
The United States went to war after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden, the man accused of planning the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Karzai, who has lived in the United States and has family there, promised democracy but said his six-month government would not tolerate corruption.
"One area where we'll be extremely tough and rather oppressive will be against corruption. We'll be very, very tough there. We cannot allow that, we know that if we allow that the country will not do very well," Karzai told the news conference.
Karzai also assured journalists his government could absorb foreign aid and spend it wisely as it battles to curb insecurity and consolidate its rule of the country.
"We are trying to help the institutions that will have the capability to absorb money and then spend it in Afghanistan," he said. "Be sure that warlordism is over...we will make sure it is over, and there too...we'll have the help of the United States."
He said Afghanistan would stop printing the afghani currency -- which has been printed by several different governments in recent years -- and would allow foreign banks to operate in his country.
Powell arrived from Pakistan on a regional tour, flying into Kabul international airport by helicopter via the Soviet-built Bagram airbase to the north of the city.
"The United States presence here is still directed towards pulling up al Qaeda and Taliban," he said.
"We don't want to leave any contamination behind."
Powell said Afghanistan's long-term security would depend upon its own military and police.
"Ultimate security will come from the creation of a new Afghan national army committed to the new Afghanistan," he said.
Powell said the objective should be "training Afghans to look after themselves and not depending on foreign forces".
Karzai, dressed in a grey, traditional lambskin hat with a green Uzbek robe over his shoulders, said Afghanistan looked forward to a long partnership with the United States in its war against terrorism.
"In order to make this region safe, in order to make Afghanistan stand up on its own feet and continue to fight against terrorism... we are asking for a partnership that is much longer in years," he said.
Powell and ministers from other probable donor countries will meet in Tokyo on Monday for an Afghanistan reconstruction conference expected to make preliminary aid pledges.
U.S. officials have been vague about how much the United States would give. Powell said last week he thought the country would need at least $8 billion over the next three to five years, about in line with U.N. estimates but below those of the Afghans.
U.S. officials have said that, having shouldered the costs of the military campaign, Washington expects other countries to pay the bulk of the reconstruction costs.
Powell was due to travel to India later in the day in a bid to ease a tense military stand-off with Pakistan.
January 17, 2002 Posted: 5:30 a.m. EST (1030 GMT)
(CNN) -- A search of possible stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons inside Afghanistan has yielded intelligence indicating "an appetite for weapons of mass destruction" but so far little hard evidence al Qaeda possessed such weapons, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Wednesday.
Military personnel have searched 40 of more than 50 sites in Afghanistan, coming across "diagrams, materials, reports that things were asked for [and] discussed" suggesting al Qaeda interest in weapons of mass destruction, said Rumsfeld.
In one case, U.S. forces detected a "high radioactivity count" on al Qaeda warheads used in anti-tank rounds, a finding Rumsfeld said was probably caused by depleted uranium -- a hard, heavy metal used in some conventional armor-piercing weapons.
Rumsfeld said U.S. forces have also discovered canisters that "externally ... appear to be weapons of mass destruction," although he cautioned against a conclusive correlation until analysis was complete.
A U.S. Central Command spokesman said Wednesday two canisters found near Kabul and thought to contain deadly chemicals were empty, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, 30 new al Qaeda and Taliban detainees arrived Wednesday at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, bringing the total number of captives there to 80.
A U.S. Marine Corps general said the Afghan war prisoners were being treated humanely, even as some detainees have threatened to kill their American captors before leaving the Caribbean island. (Full story)
Justice Department officials will soon take another detainee, American Taliban fighter John Walker, into custody, a senior Defense Department official said.
The former California resident, now being held by U.S. military personnel on the USS Bataan in the north Arabian Sea, faces multiple charges including conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals abroad. (Full story)
CNN's Bill Hemmer rides with the U.S. military on a daytime reconnaissance patrol in southern Afghanistan (January 15)
• U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking in the Afghanistan capital, Kabul, promised Thursday that the country could count on a long-term commitment from the United States. "We will be with you in this current crisis and in the future," Powell said at a news conference with Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai. (Full story)
• Authorities will not prosecute an Egyptian college student charged last Friday with lying to the FBI about his knowledge of aviation radios, one of which he allegedly had while staying in a hotel across from the World Trade Center on September 11. The government has informed the federal court in Manhattan that the case against Abdallah Higazy will be dismissed, a defense attorney said. (Full story)
• A federal grand jury in Boston, Massachusetts, on Wednesday indicted suspected "shoe bomber" Richard Reid on seven additional charges, including attempted murder, placing an explosive device on an airplane and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. (Full story)
• Based on information taken from a computer found in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said they have circumstantial evidence suggesting Reid scouted potential targets for al Qaeda. (Full story)
• Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta outlined Wednesday new guidelines to airlines for screening checked bags, calling for a multilayered system of security. Airlines face a Friday deadline set by Congress for putting procedures in place to screen all checked bags for explosives. (Full story)
• Philippine Muslim lawmakers have warned that the presence of more than 600 U.S. troops has stirred misgivings among Filipino Muslims and could derail government efforts to forge lasting peace in the region. (Full story)
• In Afghanistan, a suspected al Qaeda financier identifying himself as a member of the Taliban Shura, a council of elders, has turned himself in to U.S. forces, a U.S. military official said Wednesday. During questioning, the man said that he has provided some money to various causes, said Cmdr. Frank Merriman, a U.S. Central Command spokesman. Other military sources said they believe the man is a leading financier of the al Qaeda terrorist network. (Full story)
• The body of the seventh U.S. Marine killed in the crash of a refueling plane in Pakistan has been recovered, according to U.S. Central Command. The body was brought to the U.S. base in Kandahar and transferred to another plane to be sent to Ramstein, Germany. Six other bodies in last week's crash were found earlier, but not all the remains have been positively identified, including the final one recovered.
• The Senate office building that was shut down after an anthrax-laced letter was opened there is expected to reopen Friday following weeks of decontamination, according to a memo obtained by CNN. The Hart Senate Office Building was closed October 17, displacing some 50 senators and staff members.
• Two Indian immigrants who were arrested in Texas on September 11 with $5,000 in cash, box cutters and hair dye pleaded not guilty Wednesday in federal court in New York to credit card fraud charges. The men were on a flight from Newark, New Jersey, to San Antonio, Texas, at the time of the terrorist attacks and boarded a train after their plane was forced to land in St. Louis, Missouri.
Thursday, January 17, 2002; Page A01
Richard Colvin Reid, a small-time London thief and recent convert to radical Islam, was indicted in Boston yesterday for attempting to blow up a jetliner with explosives contained in his shoes, a technique that authorities say he learned in terrorist training camps run by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
Five of the nine charges against Reid carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and using a destructive device.
Reid is accused of trying to kill nearly 200 people aboard American Airlines Flight 63 as it flew from Paris to Miami on Dec. 22. Authorities said he tried to set off a pair of bombs hidden in the soles of his high-top black suede sneakers, but was thwarted by a flight attendant who smelled the match he lit and passengers who subdued him and tied him to his chair with belts. The plane was diverted to Boston, where Reid is being held.
The attempted bombing renewed fears of terrorism among jittery airline passengers who had only just begun returning to the skies after the suicide hijackings that killed more than 3,100 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. The United States blames al Qaeda for that attack.
The 11-page indictment, handed up by a federal grand jury in Massachusetts, alleges for the first time that Reid "received training from al Qaeda in Afghanistan."
The government's case against Reid was bolstered by newly acquired evidence confirming the accounts of some captured al Qaeda prisoners who have told U.S. military interrogators that they recognized Reid from photographs as having attended terror camps in Afghanistan, sources said. The evidence includes indications that Reid was trained in handling explosives, a U.S. official said.
Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, who announced the indictment in Washington yesterday alongside Boston U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan and other officials, said the case "alerts us to a clear, unmistakable threat that al Qaeda could attack the United States again."
"We must be prepared, we must be alert, we must be vigilant," Ashcroft said. "Al Qaeda-trained terrorists may act on their own or as part of the terrorist network, but we must assume that they will act."
Tamar R. Birckhead, Reid's public defender in Boston, did not return a telephone call yesterday seeking comment on the indictment.
Reid, who until yesterday was accused only of interfering with a flight crew, becomes the third alleged al Qaeda operative to be charged with terrorist crimes by U.S. prosecutors since the Sept. 11 attacks, and the first to be caught allegedly attempting another terrorist strike.
American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh, charged Tuesday by federal prosecutors in Alexandria, faces possible life imprisonment for allegedly conspiring to kill U.S. nationals in Afghanistan. Zacarias Moussaoui, a French national detained in the United States and accused of taking part in the hijacking plot, could be executed for his alleged crimes.
Moussaoui is also scheduled to be tried in Alexandria, but Reid's case will remain in Boston, officials said.
Eric H. Holder Jr., a former deputy attorney general, said the Justice Department's aggressive prosecution of Reid, Moussaoui and Walker is intended in part to prompt cooperation by other al Qaeda members. "It sends a message to people who are detained in this country or overseas that we are going to be very aggressive in these charging decisions, so it is in your best interest to cooperate," Holder said.
Reid, 28, has been characterized by U.S. prosecutors and British police as a rootless European wanderer with a lengthy record of petty crimes and no known home or job. Acquaintances and family members say he converted to Islam while in a British prison and apparently fell under the influence of militant clerics in south London, where he worshiped at the same mosque Moussaoui had attended.
Last summer, Reid embarked on lengthy travels to Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan, according to news reports and investigators, and is thought to have visited al Qaeda terror camps in Afghanistan in August.
Reid -- who has been described as unkempt and disheveled by passengers on Flight 63 -- aroused such suspicion on his trip to Israel from London last year that his shoes and other belongings were thoroughly searched, and he was assigned a seat next to a sky marshal on the El Al Airlines flight.
The Wall Street Journal reported in yesterday's editions that information on the hard drives of two al Qaeda computers describes a scouting mission by a terrorist operative whose travels closely mirror Reid's journey. The newspaper said it obtained the information from files in the computers, which were looted from an al Qaeda office abandoned in mid-November. A reporter acquired them for $1,100, the newspaper said.
The operative, named "Abdul Ra'uff" in the computer report, flew from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv with a new British passport, then to Egypt and on to Turkey and Pakistan, the Journal reported.
"There seems to be a very long list of coincidences between Reid's travels and the al Qaeda figure" identified in the computer files, a senior intelligence official said yesterday.
The official said the computer material is given greater credibility because it was purchased before Reid was publicly identified. But he cautioned that much of the information found on similar computers has proven dubious.
Ashcroft said yesterday that the Journal has provided copies of the computer files to the Justice Department, and investigators are combing through that material and other evidence to determine whether additional charges can be filed against Reid.
FBI agents and foreign intelligence officials believe Reid likely had help acquiring or assembling the relatively sophisticated bombs in his shoes, which were made with plastic explosives. Reid has given U.S. authorities varying explanations of how he acquired them, including the claim that he bought the explosives separately from the shoes in Amsterdam for about $1,000, sources said.
The "homemade bombs" in Reid's shoes could have blown a hole in the plane's fuselage if placed against the outer wall of the cabin when ignited, an FBI agent testified in December. Because Reid was sitting in a window seat near a wing, an explosion also could have ignited the aircraft's fuel tanks, authorities have said.
FBI scientists have identified the plastic explosive as containing PETN, a key ingredient in the compound used to blow up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. In addition, tests detected the presence of a volatile chemical accelerator called TATP, which is frequently used by Palestinian suicide bombers.
Ashcroft and his deputy, Larry Thompson, praised flight attendants and passengers on Flight 63 for halting a deadly plot. The airplane was carrying 14 crew members and 183 passengers other than Reid.
"That this tragedy was averted," Ashcroft said, "stands as proof that terrorists, even al Qaeda-trained terrorists, are no match for alert and vigilant people roused to defend themselves, and to defend their freedom."
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