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Experts Warn About Terrorist Attacks Against US - 2002-10-17

U.S. military analysts and some senior officials are predicting the United States could soon face another major terrorist attack. Analysts say a new strike could be more deadly than last year's September 11 attacks and may involve the use of weapons of mass destruction.

At a Washington conference on national security strategy and policy, Bush administration officials and experts on international terrorism painted a grim picture regarding the likelihood of another major terrorist attack in the United States.

Robert Joseph is a Special Assistant to President Bush and is the Senior Director of Proliferation Strategy and Homeland Defense for the National Security Council.

Mr. Joseph says there is no doubt the al-Qaida terrorist organization is seeking to obtain weapons of mass destruction to use against American targets. "This element has grown in importance as we have learned about al-Qaida's growing interest in acquiring from rogue states and other sources chemical, biological, and radiological weapons for attacks on us," he said. "This threat of terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction [WMD] is made more clear when one compares the list of states seeking WMD with the list of states that sponsor terrorists. The lists are virtually identical. "

The Director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency at the Pentagon, Stephen Younger, says he is concerned about the potential for terrorists using dangerous chemicals during an attack inside the United States. "What worries me even more are the very large quantities of poisonous chemicals that are stored and are transported about this country every day," he said. "The release of those chemicals into the environment could cause great damage. Indeed there could be hundreds of thousands of fatalities by lunchtime today and there is very little that we could do about it."

Paul Wilkinson, the chairman of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, says while considerable progress has been made to dismantle the al-Qaida organization, the United States is still very vulnerable to another large-scale terrorist attack.

"If we take into account the vulnerabilities that we have seen, not only in our civil aviation system, but in the maritime dimension, the weaknesses we know exist in the protection of our key infrastructure, our energy sources, our private industrial business targets, we know that we have a long way to go before we can say that we have made ourselves secure and well protected against this very dangerous global network," said Paul Wilkinson.

Analysts say new strategies must be employed to combat terrorist operations designed to produce mass casualties and demolish critical infrastructure.

Steven Emerson is a national security analyst and producer of the television documentary film Jihad in America.

Mr. Emerson says terrorist groups are planning now for another major attack. "There are cells being instituted right now or that are in place that are tasked with or will be tasked with carrying out a future attack on American soil that will be more devastating than the 9-11 attacks. This future attack will probably take place within the next year to two," he said.

Officials say several nations and terrorist organizations are now in the process of acquiring capabilities that contain destructive potential far in excess of the hijacked civilian airliners used in the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington last year.

They say the United States now faces unprecedented threats to its national security.