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Bin Laden terror network active in 34 countries

Special report: terrorism in the US Special report: Afghanistan

Ewen MacAskill, Richard Norton-Taylor and Julian Borger in Washington Friday September 14, 2001 The Guardian

The enormity of the task facing the US and its allies in destroying the network of Osama bin Laden - officially declared last night the prime suspect behind the New York and Washington terrorist attacks - has been revealed in a report showing that his reach extends to 34 countries, including Britain. As the FBI shifted the focus of its investigation to Germany yesterday, details emerged of how far the shadow of Bin Laden is cast over Europe, with recent arrests in Britain, Italy, Spain and Germany.

The first official information on the number of those missing following the attacks on the twin towers was put yesterday by New York's mayor, Rudolf Giuliani, at 4,763. The death toll from the Pentagon was estimated at 190.

Police yesterday arrested a man in his mid-40s at Heathrow airport under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. They would not say if the arrest was connected with the US attacks.

The US president, George Bush, promised that the US and the coalition preparing to retaliate will do future generations a favour "by coming together and whipping" those responsible. He described the attacks as the first war of the 21st century.

But a US Congressional report underlined how difficult it will be to defeat Bin Laden's organisation. Even if he was killed, his organisation is not hierarchical and his supporters in each country can exist independently. The report released yesterday said that Bin Laden's terrorist network - al-Qaida - had been "identified or suspected" in 34 countries and that it probably had access to anti-aircraft missiles and chemical weapons.

According to the report, al-Qaida cells have been identified or suspected in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Sudan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Chechnya, Somalia, Eritrea, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, other parts of Africa, Malaysia, the Philipppines, Uruguay, Ecuador, Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, the UK, Canada, and allegedly the US itself. Bin Laden's British connection dates back to the early 1990s, when he founded a London-based group, the Advisory and Reform Committee, that distributed literature against the Saudi regime.

The report, prepared by the Congressional research service as a briefing for legislators, was completed before Tuesday's attacks, but it identified Bin Laden and his followers as "an increasingly significant threat to US interests".

Kenneth Katzman, the report's author, wrote: "Adding to the US concerns, several hundred US shoulder-held anti-aircraft weapons are still at large in Afghanistan and, because of Bin Laden's financial resources, it is highly likely he has acquired some of them.

"US officials say Bin Laden's fighters have experimented with chemical weapons and might be trying to purchase nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction materials. From those comments, it is reasonable to assume that Bin Laden's organisation has at least a rudimentary chemical weapons capability," the report said.

Britain is the only European country listed as a possible site of al-Qaida activity, and the report notes that "in the early 1990s" Bin Laden set up a group known as the advisory and reform committee, to distribute literature critical of the Saudi regime. Bin Laden visited London in 1994 and lived for a few months in Wembley establishing the committee.

Germany has now also become a suspected focal point for Bin Laden's European operations. Acting in tandem with the FBI, German police made two arrests in Hamburg yesterday. The alleged terrorist cell there appears to have been part of the large and intricate conspiracy involving up to 50 people, of whom 18 are thought to have died in the four hijacked planes used in the attacks on New York and Washington.

The Hamburg police said they had arrested an airport worker who was living in a flat used by a Moroccan suspect being sought by the FBI. A woman was also taken in for questioning, though it was not clear last night whether she was a suspect or a witness.

The police also said that two of the suspected hijackers, Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, had lived and studied in Hamburg before leaving for Florida last year to learn to fly. Although no evidence has been discovered linking the Hamburg group to Bin Laden, the city is a major centre of activity for the Saudi-born dissident's terrorist network.

About 200 young British Muslims are estimated by the intelligence agencies as having been funded and trained by Bin Laden or his supporters.,3604,551753,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, September 14, 2001

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