Airstrikes continue after lull

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON - After a one-day lull yesterday, U.S. airstrikes resumed early today in Afghanistan, as several warplanes streaked over Kabul and powerful explosions were heard in northern areas of the city, rattling buildings in the heart of the capital.

The new round of raids came after a slowdown in the U.S.-led airstrikes against the Taliban militia during the Muslim Sabbath yesterday. The resumption of attacks marked a sixth day of strikes against the Taliban regime, which has sheltered Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network.

In addition to hitting air defenses and other military targets, the U.S.-led bombing has damaged or destroyed nearly all the al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday. Other officials have said the camps were largely empty when they were struck this week.

"We have worked over a number, if not all, of their terrorist training camps," Rumsfeld said. "Those camps have been locations where terrorists that are today's threat across the globe have been trained. Threats clearly still exist."

Across the United States, authorities increased security after the FBI warned Thursday that new terrorist attacks could be launched against the nation during the next several days.

Yesterday, officials said the government has received additional credible threats of imminent terror attacks against Americans inside the United States or overseas, possibly as early as tomorrow.

The officials said the most credible of the intelligence reports remained general and did not represent a separate threat of additional attacks.

Commercial trucks came under the sharpest scrutiny yesterday after the FBI told local police agencies to be alert for truck bombs. Traffic clogged Maryland tunnels and bridges as officials asked truck drivers to show their licenses and cargo. In Washington, police sharply restricted truck traffic in a 40-block area around the Capitol.

The precautions are necessary, said Vice President Dick Cheney, who has worked for much of the week in a secret location because of heightened security concerns after the United States began the airstrikes in Afghanistan.

"We've got to be willing to tolerate a procedure that [creates] a 40-block area around the Capitol building that we're not going to let trucks into for the time being," Cheney said in an interview aired last night on PBS.

FBI and Justice Department officials refused yesterday to discuss the information that led to the FBI's public warning Thursday. Cheney described recent threats as varying - sometimes involving U.S. forces overseas or American embassies, sometimes targets inside the United States.

"I'm reluctant to say to the country or to the American people that a week from now or a month from now, you're going to be able to totally relax, no more problems, because I think it's going to take a long time," the vice president said.

Asked why he has remained out of public view, Cheney said it had become important for security reasons that he and President Bush avoid appearing together.

698 detained or arrested

The Justice Department said 698 people have been arrested or detained as part of the broadest criminal investigation in U.S. history. In Arizona, a federal grand jury charged a man with lying to investigators about knowing one of the suspected hijackers, according to an indictment unsealed yesterday.

The man, Faisal M. al Salmi, had told investigators a week after the terrorist attacks that he had "no knowledge or association" with Hani Hanjour, a suspected hijacker who authorities believe crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, the indictment said.

In fact, the indictment charged, al Salmi knew Hanjour and had spoken with him on several occasions, including "at least one occasion when they spoke of a mutual interest in aviation."

Attorney General John Ashcroft said the indictment showed that federal prosecutors would "bring the full weight of the law upon those who try to impede or hinder the investigation of the terrorist acts of Sept. 11."

In his interview with PBS, Cheney raised the possibility that a man who has been in custody since August might have originally planned to join in the hijackings - a theory that federal investigators have been studying.

Cheney said four hijackers were aboard the flight that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, while the planes that hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon each carried a team of five. He raised the prospect that a fifth man was supposed to be on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania. "We think we may have that individual in custody, but we don't know for sure," Cheney said. "It's one of the individuals who were arrested up in Minnesota ... in August."

Cheney did not name the person. Privately, though, federal authorities have said they are trying to determine whether a man who is in custody, Zacarias Moussaoui, might have been part of the original hijacking team.

Moussaoui was arrested in August after he aroused suspicion by trying to buy time on a jet flight simulator at a Minnesota flying school. After the terrorist attacks, Moussaoui was taken to New York for questioning as a material witness.

Going after the money

The Bush administration, meanwhile, broadened its campaign to dry up the money flowing to terrorists, freezing the assets of 39 more individuals and organizations.

The Treasury Department released a new list of entities suspected of conducting or financing terrorist activities. Bush has described the effort to choke off terrorists' funding as a key part of the U.S. government's broader anti-terrorism campaign.

"We are determined to deny terrorists the resources to carry out their acts of evil," said Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, who said the new list included businesses and charitable groups that funnel money to al-Qaida.

O'Neill also said that the assets of all 22 people on the FBI's recently released "most wanted terrorists" list are subject to the blocking order.

The new list comes after a Sept. 24 order by Bush authorizing a freeze on the assets of 27 people and organizations suspected of conducting or financing terrorism. The list included 12 individuals, led by bin Laden; 11 organizations, including al-Qaida; three charities; and one business.

'Complex' financing network

O'Neill said the government would continue to add names of entities that could have their assets frozen.

"This list will continue to grow as we share information between nations and develop an increasingly clear understanding of the complex network of terrorist financing," O'Neill said.

Yesterday's list contains 21 new names and the remaining 18 people on the FBI's most wanted terrorists list. Four names on the FBI list were already included in Bush's September order.

On Capitol Hill, the House approved new police powers sought by the Bush administration to track suspected terrorists.

The 337-79 vote by the House came a day after the Senate approved a similar measure, 96-1. Differences between the two bills must be resolved before a final measure is sent to Bush to sign into law, possibly next week.

Discussing the threat posed by al-Qaida, a senior defense official said the terrorist network probably has crude chemical weapons and possibly biological ones, yet lacks an easy way to use them.

The terrorists are limited in their ability to use such weapons to target people, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official said they would have to use primitive but "innovative" ways to attack.

On another matter, the senior official said it is likely that some Taliban commanders have defected to the Northern Alliance of opposition groups fighting the Taliban forces. The official said the scale of the defections was unclear.

In the PBS interview, Cheney asserted that the U.S. military had reduced the ability of the Taliban regime to aid terrorists.

"There are reports of defections, of areas of Afghanistan that are pulling away from the Taliban government," the vice president said.

U.S. special forces are preparing for what is likely to be part of the next phase of the war - ground operations. U.S. officials have refused to discuss specifics. But yesterday, Gen. Richard B. Myers of the Air Force, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, portrayed the U.S. bombing as a prelude to ground action.

He called the air attacks "stage-setters for follow-on operations."

No response to Bush offer

Bush's public offer in his news conference Thursday night to give the Taliban a "second chance" to hand over bin Laden was intended to assure skeptical nations that the United States is taking a fair approach in its pursuit of al-Qaida, U.S. officials said yesterday.

There was no indication that the Taliban were responding to Bush's offer.

White House officials said Bush was under no illusion that the Taliban would comply but said the president hoped that extending an olive branch would convince skeptical Muslim nations that the United States was being fair and patient.

U.S. officials are in touch with the Northern Alliance but are not coordinating targets with the rebels, said Maj. Gen. Henry P. Osman of the Marines, a senior planner for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Cooperation with the Afghan rebels is complicated for the United States. Neighboring Pakistan does not want the rebels to come to power. Also, many warlords in the anti-Taliban alliance have reputations for corruption and atrocities against civilians.

Wire services contributed to this article.

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