Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Major Terrorism Plan Comes Up Short Bin Laden Group Targeted 3 Nations, According to Expert

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Major Terrorism Plan Comes Up Short Bin Laden Group Targeted 3 Nations, According to Expert

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Islamic militants headed by Osama bin Laden appear to have planned a spectacular three-country attack in January that would have included multiple bombings in Jordan and the United States and the sinking of a U.S. destroyer in Yemen, the Clinton administration's counterterrorism chief said last week.

"I think [bin Laden's] Al Qaeda network was going for a three-country attack at multiple locations," Richard Clarke, national coordinator for infrastructure protection and counterterrorism, said in an interview. "What if January last year had started with 1,000 Americans dead at six or seven locations around the world? We came very close to having that happen."

The attacks planned for January either failed or were thwarted by arrests.

U.S. officials won't comment on current potential threats. But they noted a sharp increase in threat reports over the past three months. One counterterrorist official said that officials in Kuwait recently arrested the members of a terrorist cell with apparent links to bin Laden and that authorities in Qatar recently apprehended a key terrorist operative.

This year, U.S. facilities and military forces are operating at a heightened state of alert throughout the Arabian Peninsula after the Oct. 12 bombing of the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden and the increase in threat reports.

As a result of the Cole investigation in Yemen, Clarke and other U.S. officials say they better understand and appreciate the extent of last year's planned terrorist attacks, which were aimed at disrupting millennial celebrations.

Details of those plans have been previously reported. But Clarke, for the first time, offered what he called his own "theory" of the planned attacks, based on all available intelligence -- bombings in Yemen, Jordan and the United States, all to take place on Jan. 3, which was a day of special religious significance during the Muslim holy period of Ramadan.

Members of a terrorist cell linked to Al Qaeda, who were arrested in Jordan last December, have told investigators that they planned to use explosives on Jan. …

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