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FBI says al-Qaida still top terrorist threat to U.S.

©Associated Press
February 6, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Al-Qaida is weakened and scattered, but remains the top threat to commit terrorist attacks in the United States, the FBI says in a first-of-its-kind national assessment for Congress.

The study also says other Muslim extremist groups are engaged in a jihad, or holy war, against the United States and other Western countries. Some provide support to al-Qaida, a government official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity Wednesday.

The FBI assessment comes amid heightened concern about potential terrorist attacks timed to coincide with the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage Muslims make to Mecca, which begins Sunday.

German Interior Minister Otto Schily, who met this week with Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, said a war with Iraq would inflame Muslim extremists worldwide and increase the terror threat. "If a war takes place, the emotions will intensify," said Schily. "It's a matter of concern. You can't exclude repercussions."

The FBI assessment, most of which is classified, will be delivered to House and Senate intelligence committees next week by FBI director Robert Mueller.

The report cites various U.S. intelligence sources as evidence that al-Qaida operatives around the world continue to discuss large-scale strikes against the United States and are actively attempting to acquire chemical, biological, radiological and even nuclear weapons.

Smallpox inoculations stall over compensation concerns

WASHINGTON -- State health officials said Wednesday that concerns over compensation for people injured by the smallpox vaccine are hampering the inoculation program, which has vaccinated just a few hundred people so far.

Based on historic data, a small number of people vaccinated will face serious injuries, and federal officials acknowledge they need a way to offer compensation for lost wages and medical expenses. But officials made clear they still lack a plan even as states are beginning to inoculate smallpox response teams.

Prosecutors seek 15-year sentence against terror suspect

HAMBURG, Germany -- Federal prosecutors demanded the maximum sentence of 15 years Wednesday for the first Sept. 11 terror suspect to be tried, calling the defendant "a cog that kept the machinery going."

During more than three months of testimony, prosecutors portrayed Moroccan student Mounir el Motassadeq, 28, as an integral part of a terror cell that included lead Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta.

They said the defendant -- who admitted knowing the alleged members of the Hamburg al-Qaida cell but denied knowing about their activities -- paid rent and school fees for cell members, thereby helping them maintain the pose of normal student life in Germany.

He faces more than 3,000 counts of being an accessory to murder and a member of a terrorist organization.

Book on Sept. 11 recovery draws protests from firefighters

NEW YORK -- Clergy and firefighters protested at a publishing company Wednesday, outraged by a book they say includes lies about looting and disrespect toward human remains at ground zero.

American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center, by William Langewiesche, includes a passage relating the discovery of dozens of new jeans from the Gap inside the cab of a fire truck pulled from the rubble.

The protesters, including many who spent time at the recovery operation, denied any looting had taken place.

The book also raises the issue of whether bodies recovered at the site were treated differently based on whether they were firefighters.

The book is among the finalists for the National Book Critics Circle awards.

Budget proposal lacks money for needed airport renovations

WASHINGTON -- Officials told lawmakers Wednesday the proposed 2004 budget contains no money for the $5-billion in renovations needed to meet the government's new security requirements for terminals.

Charles Barclay, president of the American Association of Airport Executives, voiced his concerns to Senate Commerce Committee's aviation panel.

In its haste to meet a year-end deadline for screening all checked baggage for explosives at airports, the Transportation Security Administration ordered some makeshift arrangements that must be changed, airport managers say. SUV-sized bomb-detection machines clogging some terminal lobbies must be installed permanently in the baggage-handling systems.

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