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Rumsfeld: Terrorist Groups Like al-Qaida Still a Threat - 2003-05-15

Senior U.S. defense officials acknowledge more terrorist attacks like this week's bloody bombings in Saudi Arabia are possible. But the officials insist groups like al-Qaida have been severely crippled and they say the hunt is still on for al-Qaida leaders believed hiding in remote areas.

For a moment, it seemed as if General Richard Myers was publicly acknowledging for the first time that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is still alive, as he discussed the kind of rugged, ungoverned areas where top terrorists are probably hiding.

"That doesn't mean we don't have people out this very minute, looking for him [Bin Laden]," he said.

Appearing at a Pentagon news briefing with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. military was asked for clarification and quickly offered it. "We don't know if he's alive or dead but that doesn't mean you stop looking for the leadership," he said.

Osama bin Laden's fate has been uncertain since late December of 2001, after U.S. forces attacked terrorist bases in Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks that year in the United States.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says it remains a hard task to find a single individual, especially in ungoverned areas. He mentions no specific locations, but in the past U.S. officials have pointed to remote portions of Pakistan and Yemen as likely terrorist hiding spots. Somalia has also been identified as a possible al-Qaida haven.

But Mr. Rumsfeld said some rogue countries are also continuing to provide sanctuary to terrorists. "We know there are senior al-Qaida in Iran," he pointed out.

He offered no elaboration. But Mr. Rumsfeld insists terrorist groups like al-Qaida, while still active and a threat, have been dealt a severe blow by worldwide efforts to crack down on their activities.

"We've always said that it doesn't mean there will not be terrorist attacks," he said. "We knew that and we said that from this podium. And I suspect there'll be more. But it's tougher for them and we intend to make it still tougher."

Mr. Rumsfeld emphasized he has no plans for further cutbacks in U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia in the wake of the latest terror bombing. Most are leaving following the war in Iraq, but he said a small number involved in training and military exercises with Saudi authorities will remain.