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U.S.: Authorities Mount Huge Effort In Response To 'Act Of War'

  • Robert McMahon

U.S. authorities are responding on numerous fronts to terrorist attacks that they are now calling "acts of war." Federal agents on U.S. borders and military installations worldwide have been placed on highest alert. Diplomatic efforts have been initiated to rally international support for tracking and punishing terrorists, and the locations of four passenger jet crashes have been turned into massive crime scenes.

Washington, 13 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush and his top aides have pledged to carry out a careful, thorough investigation into Tuesday's terrorist bombings, but have already given strong indications they believe the attacks were directed from abroad.

Bush told Americans in a national address yesterday that their government is conducting its business, but that it is "not business as usual."

"The United States of America will use all our resources to conquer this enemy. We will rally the world. We'll be patient. We'll be focused. And we'll be steadfast in our determination."

The U.S. Navy took the unusual step of sending aircraft carriers to the waters off New York and Washington to provide air cover. U.S. forces worldwide -- including 20,000 troops in the Persian Gulf, about 100,000 in Europe, and 100,000 in Asia -- were put on their highest levels of alert.

The United States also secured agreement from NATO allies yesterday that the terrorist attacks could be considered a strike against the entire alliance if it was determined they were directed from abroad. This is covered by Article Five of the 1949 Washington Treaty, which has never been invoked by the alliance.

Charles Kupchan, director of European studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent think-tank, says NATO cooperation will be crucial in the U.S. effort to track down such an apparently sophisticated ring of terrorists.

"I think it will elevate the focus on terrorism markedly and not just in NATO. In the United States -- the whole, generally, what is called 'homeland defense' -- will loom much, much larger. And that's something that will require the assistance of allies because so much is difficult to detect. So much is the sort of stuff you combat through cooperation among intelligence agencies."

The United States has also focused attention on Afghanistan, where the ruling Taliban have permitted accused terrorist Osama bin Laden to live. Bin Laden is wanted in connection with other terrorist attacks against U.S. targets and is believed by U.S. intelligence officials to be one of the few figures capable of carrying out Tuesday's attacks.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met Pakistani Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi in Washington yesterday to seek Islamabad's cooperation. The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlin, is scheduled to meet Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, today to continue to press for Pakistani support.

Pakistan has been the main sponsor of the Taliban and is one of three countries to recognize its leadership as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

Musharraf early today expressed his country's strong support in the fight against terrorism.

President Bush says his government will make no distinction between the terrorists responsible for the attacks and those who provide refuge for them. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday stopped short of assigning blame for the attacks.

"We have not made a determination yet as to who is responsible for yesterday's [11 September] attack, but we thought as we gather information and as we look at possible sources of the attack, it would be useful to point out to the Pakistani leadership at every level that we are looking for and we expect their fullest cooperation and their help and support as we conduct this investigation."

Powell also said Russia could be of great assistance to U.S. investigation of terrorist links to Afghanistan. He said the State Department is exploring ways of expanding a U.S.-Russian commission previously formed to deal with terrorism originating from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. He said Armitage and Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov would be working together on the issue in the future.

In the United States, law enforcement officials say they are mounting the most massive criminal investigation in the country's history. Command centers have been set up at the three plane crash sites -- the Pentagon, the World Trade Center and in the state of Pennsylvania.

Authorities say they have reviewed passenger lists on the four aircraft involved in the attacks and interviewed many relatives of the victims. This has helped them identify most of the alleged hijackers, and they have begun contacting and seeking associates of the suspects.

Examination of cell phone calls from passengers on the hijacked aircraft have revealed the hijackers operated in groups of three to six and were armed with crude knives.

The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Robert Mueller, said no arrests have been made anywhere in the investigation (as of 0100 Prague time). But he said some people were detained over immigration status.

A man in the state of Florida said FBI agents told him that two men who had stayed in his home while training at a local flight school were among the hijackers. He identified the men as Mohamed Atta and one known as Marwan. Authorities were also reported to be investigating links between the suspected attackers and a group of sympathizers of bin Laden in Canada, some of Algerian origin.

Security experts say unraveling the terrorist network that accomplished the attacks will be lengthy. Kenneth Allard, a national security analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says years of neglect by U.S. intelligence officials allowed such a network to develop and similar groups will take time to track down.

"These networks have been developed and put in place over a long period of time, and it is not the kind of thing that you solve overnight. This problem has been a long time coming. It will be a long time solving."

There was a widespread expectation among foreign policy experts and Western diplomats that the United States will launch strikes against whomever it determines carried out the attacks.