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New York Times
March 6, 2002
Intercepted Al Qaeda E-Mail Is Said To Hint At Regrouping
By James Risen and David Johnston
WASHINGTON, March 5 ? Newly detected Internet traffic among Al Qaeda
followers, including intercepted e-mail messages, indicates that
elements of the terror network may be trying to regroup in remote
sanctuaries in Pakistan near the Afghan border, government officials
United States officials said they had discovered the existence of new
Web sites and Internet communications that appeared to be part of a
concerted Al Qaeda effort to reconstitute the group and re-establish
communications after the war in Afghanistan.
Senior counterterrorism officials said that Al Qaeda's effort to rebuild
itself outside Afghanistan appeared to rely heavily on the Internet for
communications among highly mobile operatives, who often check their
messages in public Internet cafes around the world, making them
difficult to track.
American officials said the new communications traffic was a serious
concern because they feared that Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's network,
could use its sophisticated Internet ability to launch new terror
attacks against the United States.
At least some of the cyberspace activity can be traced back to Pakistan,
said a senior law enforcement official.
Some of the activity appeared to come from villages in the Pakistani
province of Baluchistan, along the Afghan border, a remote and sometimes
American officials now believe that some of these villages in
Baluchistan, and perhaps others in the disputed Kashmir region, could be
serving as new sanctuaries for Al Qaeda members.
United States officials described those areas as difficult for Pakistani
authorities to control effectively.
The content of the intercepted cyber traffic has not indicated specific
threats, but one official said the purpose of the communications was
troubling because it appeared to be focused on Al Qaeda's efforts to
American officials said they believed that several hundred armed Al
Qaeda forces had regrouped in the Gardez region over the last several
weeks, joined by non-Afghan Taliban fighters, including both Chechens
and Uzbeks. The United States military believes that there are other
pockets of Al Qaeda resistance in Afghanistan as well.
But American officials said today that they did not believe that Mr. bin
Laden was in the Gardez pocket, and it is unclear how many other Al
Qaeda leaders are actually directing the fighting from within the pocket
itself, or whether they are doing so remotely by e-mail or other forms
of communications from Pakistan.
So while the military focuses on routing surviving Al Qaeda groups in
Afghanistan, American intelligence and law enforcement officials are
increasingly concerned about Al Qaeda's efforts outside Afghanistan to
reform and strike again.
"Al Qaeda is searching all around the world for new sanctuaries," John
McLaughlin, deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said in
a brief interview on Monday.
Officials cautioned today that the full significance of the Internet
activity in and out of Pakistan was still not clear, and that it was
uncertain whether any senior Al Qaeda leaders were involved.
It is unclear whether the communications represent a central command
structure trying to control various elements of the organization or
simply Al Qaeda members speaking to each other.
American officials added that they were still not certain, for example,
where Mr. bin Laden was, or even whether he was still alive.
Other top Al Qaeda leaders who survived American bombing raids in
Afghanistan have also proved elusive.
While Al Qaeda's leaders are seeking a new haven, it is not clear that
they have gathered in any one place yet that might serve as a new
But American counterterrorism analysts said the recently discovered
Internet activity did provide strong evidence of efforts by Al Qaeda to
rebuild after its dispersal in Afghanistan. The officials said that they
had watched as new Web sites that they believe have real connections to
Al Qaeda and are not hoaxes had popped up in recent weeks.
United States intelligence has also tracked e-mail traffic that
counterterrorism analysts said they believed showed efforts to
re-establish communications between some members of Al Qaeda in Pakistan
and operatives around the world. Some of the e-mail can be traced to
border regions of Pakistan, where some Al Qaeda members may be operating
under the protection of local tribal leaders.
Investigators have been frustrated by their inability to track the Qaeda
operatives who are picking up messages around the world. In many cases,
they appear to read their e- mail in public places like airports and
have thus stayed a step ahead of law enforcement authorities.
In the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks, investigators found that
the hijackers communicated with each other in hundreds of e-mail
messages often sent from public places like Kinko's or public libraries.
So far, there is no sign of Mr. bin Laden or other top Al Qaeda leaders
communicating with their followers.
But Al Qaeda's presence in as many as 60 countries makes it important
for the organization to find ways to communicate. Clusters of Al Qaeda
followers have recently been active in countries outside of Central
Asia, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Spain and Yemen.
Some Al Qaeda fighters are also believed to have slipped out of
Afghanistan into Iran.
American officials believe that one of the benefits of the war in
Afghanistan was to disrupt the terror network's ability to communicate
from a central command center.
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