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Pentagon Increasing Surveillance of Somalia; al-Qaida Regrouping Suspected - 2002-01-04

The United States and its allies are stepping up surveillance activities in Somalia where administration officials now suggest al-Qaida terrorists may be trying to regroup.

U.S. officials are now calling Somalia a "hotbed" of al-Qaida activity.

These officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, decline to expand on that characterization, other than to make clear they are referring to current-day and not past activity. The only detail they are willing to provide is that they say some al-Qaida fighters fleeing the fighting in Afghanistan have already arrived in the Horn of Africa country.

The officials tell VOA the number of terrorists who have made the move is not substantial. They also say there is no evidence any senior al-Qaida leaders have arrived in Somalia.

But the officials' comments come as the Pentagon has confirmed an increase in reconnaissance activities over Somalia. Both the Defense Department and the State Department indicate the stepped-up surveillance is designed to thwart any significant resurgence in the al-Qaida presence.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tells reporters al-Qaida training camps in Somalia tend to go inactive when, as he puts it, "people get attentive to them."

However some analysts believe the increased surveillance could be a prelude to military action.