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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 14:06 GMT
US takes no chances with terror alert
FBI pictures of wanted men
Information may be uncorroborated or unreliable
Jonathan Marcus

There have been three similar anti-terrorist warnings from the US authorities in the wake of the attacks of 11 September, but this is by far the most specific. The text is posted on the FBI's website.

"Recent information," it reads "indicates that a planned attack may occur in the United States or against US interests in the country of Yemen on or around 12 February."

The website also has photos of 13 of the young men it believes may be involved in planning this attack - nearly all of them Yemeni nationals.


What's clear is that the US is beginning to piece together a much more accurate picture of the al-Qaeda organisation's activities and key operatives

The FBI says that the information that prompted this warning has come from the continuing US military operations in Afghanistan and from interviews with detainees held at Camp X-Ray - the US military facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

It is very difficult to get a clear sense of just how definite this warning is.

Fawaz Yahya Al-Rabeei - who appears from the FBI statement to be one of the key figures behind the planned attack - remains something of a mystery.

The FBI notes that his "current whereabouts are unknown" and that he may even be dead.

That doesn't sound a terribly promising basis upon which to issue a terrorist alert.

Taking no chances

But in reality, anti-terrorist operations are seldom certain.
Police on alert at Winter Olympics
More US troops are on duty at the Olympics than in Afghanistan

Much of the information being gleaned by US intelligence experts in both Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay may be uncorroborated at best or even simply unreliable.

But after 11 September the US authorities cannot afford to take chances - particularly with high-profile events like the Winter Olympics under way, where more US troops have been deployed for security duties than are currently serving in Afghanistan.

What is clear is that the US is beginning to piece together a much more accurate picture of the al-Qaeda organisation's activities and key operatives.

Huge quantities of material have been gathered in Afghanistan including papers and computer records.

The lengthy interrogation of suspected al-Qaeda fighters will also add to this intelligence picture. There is no doubt that al-Qaeda's tentacles spread around the globe with cells of its supporters in the Asia-Pacific region, western Europe and the US itself.


There's a danger that as time goes on complacency will creep in and warnings may not be heeded

The massive international security clampdown may well have thwarted future operations.

The destruction of al-Qaeda's infrastructure in Afghanistan will also have had a significant impact upon its senior leadership's ability to co-ordinate operations worldwide.

But the widely dispersed nature of its operatives suggests that they have considerable latitude in selecting targets and mounting operations.

Down but not out

This is far from a rigidly structured organisation. The current clampdown may force al-Qaeda cells to disappear from view and restrict their activities.

But not forever.

There's a danger that as time goes on complacency will creep in and warnings may not be heeded.

So if nothing happens over the next few days, does this mean the warning was wrong?

Not necessarily. Was there a planned attack? Was it thwarted?

The simple answer is that we will probably never know.

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See also:

12 Feb 02 | Americas
FBI warns of new terror attack
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