WASHINGTON – Wanted dead or alive: Usama bin Laden.
Following new reports that the elusive Sept. 11 mastermind is alive, well and ready to carry out more terror operations, Washington has made it clear that bin Laden's next hiding hole should be a body bag -- and soon.
President Bush has even set a deadline for bin Laden's last day on Earth -- the anniversary of the deadly strikes on New York City and Washington, D.C., according to Time magazine.
American leaders see getting bin Laden as critical, even though no one thinks his death would stop Al Qaeda or more terrorism. There had been hope that the Saudi terrorist had been killed in U.S. bombing in Afghanistan or of kidney disease.
"If he's alive," Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Sunday, "I'd like him to stick his head up and let us get a good look at him. And then I'd take it off."
"In a heartbeat," agreed Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
And Washington has plans to make it so. The Pentagon is planning a summer campaign to get bin Laden, sources told Time.
There was also a hint of frustration over other unfinished business from the fall: the anthrax investigation.
Lawmakers echoed Bush administration officials in pleading for patience, saying the case is scientifically complex.
But Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said authorities are spending too much time reorganizing themselves into an anti-terrorism bureaucracy and not enough on the bottom line: crushing Al Qaeda and finding out who spread the deadly anthrax germs at home.
"I have to say we just need a renewed effort to keep our eye on both of these things," she said on the talk show circuit. "That anthrax killer is out there. We need to nab this person."
Over the weekend, bin Laden spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith said the Al Qaeda leader and most top lieutenants are plotting more terror for the U.S.
"Lot of bravado there," said Boxer, noting bin Laden did not look well at all when last seen on video.
But Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, put some stock in the claims.
"It's not surprising that there is a statement that bin Laden is still alive," he said on Fox News Sunday. "That's the best assessment of U.S. intelligence."
A White House official found nothing surprising in the statement, either.
Graham said bin Laden might be somewhere in Pakistan's western tribal lands.
Whatever its boss' fate, Al Qaeda appears to be regenerating, Graham said, and even the Hamburg, Germany, cell believed central to the Sept. 11 attacks has been showing signs of life.
"What we have seen is a disturbing pattern of the reformulation of Al Qaeda and their renewed willingness and capability to conduct terrorist attacks," he said.
Added Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the intelligence panel's top Republican: "They could hit us any day."
Administration officials have pointed to numerous indications of Al Qaeda activity but question whether the network still has the command structure or communications to plan something from the top.
They believe midlevel operatives are having to do their own hasty planning with whatever tools they can muster, and the result could be more frequent but less sophisticated attacks than before.
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the administration viewed Ghaith's taped remarks as no surprise, but wouldn't discuss whether bin Laden is alive or whether a new attack is likely.
Lawmakers said Al Qaeda does not need bin Laden in order to go on.
"This snake can crawl without its head and we need to be aware of that," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said.
He cautioned everyone to be especially careful on Independence Day because of its symbolic value as a terrorist target.
The congressional leaders offered no evidence of an impending attack other than the uncorroborated warnings issued lately, including one that Al Qaeda could use fuel tanker trucks against Jewish targets in the United States.
Graham said Al Qaeda appears to be more capable of attacking Americans than it was a month or two ago.
With all the foreboding from Washington, and the desire to track down the man behind the worst terrorist attack on America, it was left to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sound a note of confidence about the progress made against both Al Qaeda and the Taliban militia.
"They are a defeated force," he said. "They are on the run."
And bin Laden?
"Usama bin Laden must know that, whatever acts of terror he thinks he can commit, will not remain unanswered, and that his days are anyway numbered," Karzai said.
"But he will be found one day, sooner or later. That is for sure."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.