Ashcroft: Terror Threat 'Very Real'

Published August 04, 2003

| FoxNews.com

There continues to be a "very real potential" for an attack by Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror network, Attorney General John Ashcroft (search) said, responding to the latest threats by a man claiming to be a high-ranking Al Qaeda operative.

"I believe that Al Qaeda wants to strike us whenever and wherever they can," Ashcroft said, while appearing on "Fox News Sunday." "I believe we've disrupted dozens and dozens and dozens —- over 100 terrorist-related attacks —- around the world since 9/11.

"And it's not just individuals who might transit the country," he added. "We're always conscious of the potential presence and activity of individuals who might hurt us from within the country."

Ashcroft's words came on the heels of another audiotape that was released on Sunday in which a man claiming to be Usama bin Laden's right-hand man warned Americans that any harm inflicted on detainees at Guantanamo Bay (search) would come at a high cost.

"I swear by the almighty God ... that the crusader America will pay dearly for any harm done to any of the Muslim prisoners it is holding," said a voice purported to be that of Ayman al-Zawahri (search), an official in Al Qaeda second only to bin Laden.

Airing for the first time across Arab satellite station Al-Arabiya, the tape came as a direct response to the Bush administration's recent announcement that it will began putting the detainees on military trials that could result in death sentences.

While it was not immediately possible to authenticate the tape, those who know al-Zawahri said it certainly sounded like him. "He's my friend and I know his voice well," Montasser el-Zayat, a prominent Egyptian lawyer who represents Islamic fundamentalists, told the Associated Press.

An editor for the Dubai-based TV station, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Al-Arabiya (search) received the tape late Saturday, but he did not say how or where the channel got it. He also did not elaborate on why the station believed the tape was authentic, but authorities noted that its reference to the Guantanamo trials indicates that it was made within the past month.

The tape said all those who handed the prisoners to America or to any of its "agents" will also pay. "Let it be clear to those who conspire with America, that America cannot defend itself, let alone defend others."

The Arabic recording said every prisoner held by the "infidels" should know that his release is a "debt hanging from the neck of every" Muslim fighter and that "his brothers have not forgotten that they will avenge him from the new crusaders.

"But we tell America one thing: What you have seen so far is nothing but the first skirmishes. The real battle hasn't started yet."

Al-Zawahri's whereabouts are not known. U.S. officials believe bin Laden, who was not mentioned in the audiotape, and al-Zawahri are hiding in the wilderness at the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On July 3, the Pentagon (search) announced President Bush had designated six prisoners to become the first terrorism suspects who could be tried before military tribunals. Trial dates have not been set. The six were not identified, but some were believed held at Guantanamo, where U.S. officials are preparing a makeshift courtroom, a permanent detention facility and an execution chamber.

The tape further warned the American people that if they are "keen on their future and the future of their generations ... to follow reason and logic before it is too late."

"America and its agents are torturing your prisoners, show them how you will avenge them," he said.

Some 660-terror suspects from 42 countries have been held for nearly two years at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba. The detainees were arrested during the U.S.-led war on Afghanistan, launched after the Sept. 11 attacks, blamed on Al Qaeda.

Guantanamo Bay's location puts the detainees out of the jurisdiction of American courts, an arrangement criticized by lawyers and human rights groups.

The Bush administration has protested to Arab TV stations in the past over the broadcast of tapes purportedly released by Al Qaeda leaders, ranging from al-Zawahri to bin Laden, fearing the tapes may contain coded messages and heighten tensions in the Middle East.

The previous tape attributed to al-Zawahri was broadcast May 21 on the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite station. The voice believed to be that of the Egyptian-born doctor urged Muslims to stage terrorist strikes against Jews, Americans and U.S. allies. U.S. officials said at the time that it was plausible that the speaker was al-Zawahri.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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