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US and EU Officials Warn More Terror Attacks Likely - 2004-09-14

Members of Congress have been told that more terrorism is likely in Europe, and possibly the United States, despite efforts to step up cooperation in intelligence, security, and other areas. The warning came during a congressional hearing Tuesday.

The message from an official of the State Department, as well as a representative of the European Union, was as blunt as it could be.

Despite progress in the war on terror, more attacks are likely, whether in Europe or the United States, probably with conventional weapons, possibly with some kind of weapon of mass destruction.

William Pope is principal deputy coordinator in the State Department for Counter-terrorism. He says U.S. and European officials are in agreement that al-Qaida is probably continuing to seek weapons of mass destruction:

"Everybody, on either side of the Atlantic or anywhere else, would be very ill-advised to assume that there will never be any possibility that Osama Bin-Laden, or those like him, could acquire any kind of weapon of mass destruction," said Mr. Pope.

Mr. Pope's comment came during a combined hearing by two congressional committees examining trans-Atlantic cooperation in the war on terror.

He says the United States and Europe are putting up, in his words, every roadblock to terrorist attempts to acquire such weapons, but adds it is impossible to predict whether these efforts will succeed.

Echoing the U.S. official's observation was Gjis De Vries, counter-terrorism coordinator for the European Union.

"This is a serious risk, even though perhaps for the immediate future we should not discount attacks with conventional means," he said. "That remains a serious threat in Europe. We have to be on our guard for the possibility that terrorist groups lay their hands on weapons of mass destruction."

State Department counter-terrorism official William Pope says Western European intelligence organizations have successfully prevented what he called numerous incipient mass casualty terrorist attacks since the September 2001 attacks in the United States.

However, he adds Washington is concerned about continuing terrorist activity and the presence of terror support networks in Europe.

"As we all know, much of the planning for 9/11 took place in Europe and terrorist support networks continue to exist on the continent, despite the best efforts of security services and European governments," he noted.

Mr. Pope says legal impediments in some European countries hamper detention of, or strong judicial action against, terrorist suspects.

The hearing took place amid concern on the part of some U.S. lawmakers that European governments may not be acting strongly enough against terrorist threats.

Jo Ann Davis, a Republican congresswoman, says there is no alternative to intensifying counter-terrorism cooperation.

"Regrettably, the March tragedy in Madrid, and the recent events in Russia remind us that all Europe remains vulnerable to terrorist violence," she said. "For our part, the U.S. has the power and the global reach to accomplish much of the job. But as we are experiencing we cannot do it all alone."

Terrorist threats were also the subject of a separate House hearing, in which U.S. homeland security chief Tom Ridge answered lawmaker's questions about preparedness, and the recommendations of the 9/11 commission that investigated the September 2001 attacks in the United States.

Mr. Ridge's appearances this week on Capitol Hill came as Congress prepares to consider various legislative proposals aimed at implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations.