WASHINGTON With or without Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida terrorists appear to be regrouping as a lethal threat, leading senators on U.S. intelligence said Sunday.
Lawmakers cited recently publicized warnings from U.S. officials and one broadcast from bin Laden's spokesman Sunday to underscore the persistent danger from terrorists chased from their Afghan havens.
They appear to be more capable of attacking Americans than they were a month or two ago, said Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Added Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the committee's top Republican, "They could hit us any day."
The senators offered no evidence of an impending attack other than the uncorroborated warnings issued lately, including one that al-Qaida could use fuel tanker trucks against Jewish interests in America.
Officials have not established the authenticity of the tape broadcast to the Arab world Sunday in which bin Laden associate Sulaiman Abu Ghaith says the al-Qaida leader and most other top figures in the network are alive, well and ready to attack again.
But Graham, at least, put some stock in the claims. "It's not surprising that there is a statement that bin Laden is still alive," he said on "Fox News Sunday." "That's best assessment of U.S. intelligence."
The best guess is that bin Laden is in the tribal lands of western Pakistan, he said.
Regardless of bin Laden's fate, al-Qaida appears to be regenerating, he said, and even the Hamburg, Germany, cell believed central to the Sept. 11 attacks has been showing signs of life.
"What we have seen is a disturbing pattern of the reformulation of al-Qaida and their renewed willingness and capability to conduct terrorist attacks."
Bush administration officials have pointed to numerous indications of al-Qaida activity but questioned whether the network still has the command structure or communications to plan something from the top.
They believe midlevel operatives are having to do their own hasty planning with whatever tools they can muster, and the result could be more frequent but less sophisticated attacks than before.www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/bw-cong/2002/jun/23/062305037.htmlE-mail this article