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U.S.: Americans Brace For Terrorist Response

  • Andrew Tully

Leaders of the U.S. Congress say briefings by senior intelligence officials have convinced them that there will probably be more attacks by terrorists on American soil. And they warn that no one can rule out the use of biological, chemical, or even nuclear weapons. That threat seems even more likely with the beginning of U.S. strikes against targets in Afghanistan.

Washington, 8 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Now that the U.S. has begun its military campaign against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan, Americans are bracing for what some say is an inevitable retaliation of terror.

Until now, the United States has been virtually immune to attacks by international terrorists on its own land. But on 11 September, terrorists believed to be led by bin Laden rammed two hijacked commercial jetliners into the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York, and a third into the Pentagon. A fourth crashed in a rural area of the state of Pennsylvania without reaching its target.

Even before the U.S.-led military response, which began yesterday, senior intelligence officials were telling leaders in Congress that there was a "100 percent" chance of more acts of terror in America.

Senator Robert Graham (D-Florida), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was asked yesterday on an American television program if the likelihood of a new attack was in fact that great, and if it might involve chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons. Graham said "yes."

"I believe that we could expect the next shoes to drop [the next phases in the terrorists' campaign] to be something different than hijacking airplanes. And the reason is because what the terrorists are trying to do is to create a pervasive sense of fear among the American people. The way to do that is to attack us in as many different forms as possible."

On a different television program, another Senate leader, Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), said there was little Americans can do to prevent an utterly unexpected attack. He said people should "put it in God's hands" and go on with life.

For the most part, that is what Americans did. As they usually do on Sundays, they filled sports stadiums and otherwise pursued the pastimes that occupy a people at peace. Yet they remained mindful that their nation was on the threshold of war. When the coalition air strikes over Afghanistan were announced at a football stadium in Atlanta the fans erupted into chants of "USA! USA!"

But the concern persists, at least among law enforcement officials. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, is urging police and security agencies across the country to move to their highest level of alert. The Bureau said it had no specific threats.

Increased security was evident nationwide even before the FBI warning was issued. The U.S. Coast Guard was expanding armed defense of major ports and added special security zones around sensitive piers. Some state government buildings were closed to visitors, and police in some areas were reassigned from desk work to street patrol. Security at many of the nation's airports -- already strict after 11 September -- was made even stricter.

Security also was stricter for the country's two highest-ranking leaders, U.S. President George W. Bush and his vice president, Richard Cheney. The vice president was taken to a secret location, while Bush stayed at the White House. This ensured that both men could not be targeted by a single attack. The same was done the day of the attacks on New York and Washington. Bush was at the White House and Cheney was at the presidential retreat Camp David, which is outside Washington.

Bush announced the strikes from the White House yesterday, about a half-hour after they began from American and British warships stationed in the Arabian Sea. Bush said America and allied nations will press the campaign against international terrorism for as long as it takes to neutralize bin Laden's Al-Qaeda organization and the Taliban, the militia that controls most of Afghanistan and which has been harboring Al-Qaeda.

"By destroying camps and disrupting communications, we'll make it more difficult for the terror network to train new recruits and coordinate their evil plans. Initially, the terrorists may burrow deeper into caves and other entrenched hiding places. Our military action is also designed to clear the way for sustained, comprehensive and relentless operations to drive them out and bring them to justice."

And Bush alluded to the concerns of Muslims throughout the world who may believe that the campaign is a war against Islam, rather than a universal effort to eradicate international terrorism.

"We are joined in this operation by our staunch friend Great Britain. Other close friends, including Canada, Australia, Germany, and France have pledged forces as the operation unfolds. More than 40 countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia have granted air transit or landing rights. Many more have shared intelligence. We are supported by the collective will of the world."

Bush said he and his coalition partners had no choice but to attack Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. He said the Taliban has had nearly four weeks to surrender bin Laden, and has refused to do so. Now, he said, it has to pay the price. Bush was quoted as having said to an aide: "I gave them fair warning and they chose not to heed it."

The American president's words were echoed by his British counterpart, Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has been an outspoken supporter of Bush's coalition.

"It is more than two weeks since an ultimatum was delivered to the Taliban to yield up the terrorists or face the consequences. It is clear, beyond doubt, that they will not do this. They were given the choice of siding with justice or siding with terror. And they chose to side with terror."

Just as it has since the terror attacks, the American government presented a united front on the day the military attacks began. The leaders of Congress from both political parties have issued a statement strongly endorsing Bush's action. And they praised the president for making it clear that the action is being taken solely against terrorists, not against Islam or the people of Afghanistan.

The U.S. and British strikes were massive. At the Pentagon, General Richard Myers, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that their warships, including submarines, launched 50 cruise missiles at Taliban and Al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan. Cruise missiles are low-flying missiles programmed to hit targets with great accuracy. Myers said 15 bombers and 25 fighter jets also were used.

With Myers was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. During a question-and-answer session with reporters, the secretary said it was too early to determine the effectiveness of the strikes.

"No, it's far too early to try to measure success [of the military strikes], and the answer is 'no' with respect to [Osama bin Laden]. This is not about a single individual. It's about an entire terrorist network, and multiple networks across the globe. We would not have actual reports on the success of the various attacks for some time."

At about the time Rumsfeld was speaking, the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said both bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader, had survived the attacks. His statement could not be independently verified.

Bin Laden supporters, meanwhile, released a videotape that evidently had been recorded before the U.S.-led reprisals. But in his comments, bin Laden clearly was anticipating U.S action against him. In the tape, the Saudi exile praised God for the attacks on the U.S., but he did not claim responsibility for the acts of terror.

Bin Laden made a thinly veiled threat of continued terror to Americans. He said they will not live in security until Palestinians also have security in their own land -- and until Western armed forces leave "the land of Mohammed."

The suspected terrorist was referring to one of his strongest objections to the U.S.: the presence of its troops -- including Christians and Jews -- in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam.

At yesterday's Pentagon press briefing, Rumsfeld said the allied military aircraft over Afghanistan were dropping more than bombs. The payloads of some of the planes includes 37,000 relief kits containing food, medicine and radios to enable Afghans to hear news from the outside world.

The secretary provided little other detail except to say that the packages were being dropped in remote areas to keep the Taliban from confiscating them.

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