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Officials Say Mideast Style Suicide Bombings Inevitable in US - 2002-05-20

There are new warnings about the possibility of more terrorist attacks against the United States. A day after Vice-president Dick Cheney told Americans to be prepared for another major attack, comes another warning from the FBI.

The agency says it is inevitable that the kind of suicide bombings that have rocked Israel for months will eventually strike the United States. That warning came from FBI Director Robert Mueller, who said at a gathering of prosecuting attorneys Monday, "I wish I could be more optimistic."

A further warning came from Senate intelligence committee chairman Bob Graham, who told NBC, groups that have claimed responsibility for those attacks in the Middle East could be planning to strike American targets.

"They are the familiar names, mainly in the Middle East. Groups like Hezbollah, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad would be two of the principle groups in addition to al-Qaida who have capabilities and the desire to strike America," he said. "It probably won't be in the form of hijacked airplanes and hopefully not at the scale of September 11th, but another terrorist attack inside the United States is almost a certainty."

Why these new warnings? Senior U.S. officials have pointed in recent days to what they say is a sharp increase in intelligence, including intercepted al-Qaida messages, or "chatter" as they call it, suggesting the U.S. war on terrorism is far from being won.

"Chatter refers to intercepts," according to counter-terrorism consultant Neal Livingstone, "that have been done generally by the National Security Administration where they basically monitor communications around the world and what they're seeing apparently is an increase in communications among various known al-Qaida fronts or sources or individuals in various countries. And secondly, it may be also predicated upon the interrogation of various al-Qaida and Taleban prisoners."

U.S. officials say the increase in intelligence is similar to what they saw in the months before September 11, but, like then as well, too vague to predict when or where a new attack might take place.

Still, Congress is preparing to investigate whether the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies may have misread warning signs or failed to act on information, however imprecise, that could have foreshadowed the worst terrorist attacks on the United States ever.