In January, President Bush declared the nation was winning the war on terrorism. But a report by the U.S. government says a high probability remains that terrorists from the al-Qaida network will attack the United States within the next two years with a chemical, biological or nuclear weapon.
Calling al-Qaida the most immediate and serious terrorism threat facing the United States, this report submitted to the United Nations is warning of a high probability that al-Qaida sleeper cells in the United States will attack with a weapon of mass destruction sometime within the next two years. It points out the FBI has turned up a widespread militant Islamic presence in the United States, with perhaps several hundred members having ties to the terrorist network.
U.S. officials say they know al-Qaida has been trying to acquire a nuclear or radiological bomb from evidence discovered in compounds in Afghanistan. Andy Oppenheimer is an expert on such weapons at Jane's Information group in London.
"Just looking at their general aptitude, it's definitely not beyond them to acquire the material," he said.
In the wake of the Afghan war, U.S. officials have declared the al-Qaida network to be on the run, especially in light of the capture in March of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a top deputy to Osama bin Laden and the man considered al-Qaida's most skilled operational planner.
But since then, there have been more deadly terrorist attacks, including last month's suicide bombing in Saudi Arabia which killed more than 30 people, nine of them Americans. And, here in the United States, the nationwide terrorist alert has twice been raised from elevated to high, with U-S intelligence officials pointing to what they call increased "chatter" or intercepted conversations suggesting al-Qaida cells were actively planning new attacks.
"Since the greatest threat to American security is from the sleeper cells that have not been identified or detected, it's very difficult thereby to identify and neutralize such an attack," said Raymond Tanter, a Middle East expert and former member of the National Security Council.
Terrorism experts point out the al-Qaida network has a pattern of planning attacks for years before striking. It's been nearly two years since the group was blamed for the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. This report warns it may now be planning another spectacular attack, concentrating on sites such as shopping centers, supermarkets and recreational areas.