intelligence analysts suggest the apparently coordinated attacks
against the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon outside
Washington, and the downing of a jet in Pennsylvania have the mark
of Osama bin Laden's network al Qaeda.
"You would think it would have to be bin Laden behind it, because
who else would have the audacity, the conceptual audacity of it?"
says John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org in Washington.
"His organization fits the profile. There are very few
international terrorist organizations with such skill sets capable
of launching such a massive and coordinated attack," says Stratfor
analyst Jamie Etheridge in Austin, Texas.
"His organization incorporates the tactics used
[attack], coordinated attack," she says. "They probably used trained
pilots to ram the World Trade Center."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, told ABCNEWS that "top people at the CIA" told him "just
about everything points in the direction of Osama bin Laden." Hatch
also said U.S. officials had some data suggesting bin Laden
associates were on at least one of the aircraft that crashed
apparently was brought down today.
Steven Aftergood, an intelligence analyst with the Federation of
American Scientists, earlier cautioned: "I would like to forgo
guessing. I think the evidence should be collected and should speak
"I think what can be surmised is this was the work of an
exceptionally well-organized and sophisticated group of people and
they must have left footprints in one place or another," he adds.
"This was not bin Laden operating out of his tent."
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a press briefing today
declined to discuss at this time whether bin Laden is suspected.
Thousands of FBI agents are investigating, Their probe will
include visits to Boston's Logan and Virginia's Dulles international
airports, from which three of the four planes that crashed in
apparent hijackings today originated. They will be dissecting
passenger lists for clues as to who may have been responsible, and
calling relatives of the people on the lists. Agents also are
executing search warrants based on the flight manifests.
The New York field division is deploying its Evidence Response
Team to the World Trade Center to gather evidence.
Warnings About bin Ladens Group
Created in 1998, al Qaeda is a loose umbrella association of
radical groups and people believed to operate in dozens of countries
around the world and suspected of association with previous attacks
against U.S. interests, including the 1998 bombings of two U.S.
embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole in the
Yemeni port of Aden last October.
Bin Laden and others allegedly associated with him were indicted
in the embassy attacks.
Over the course of the year, the U.S. State Department has issued
a number of alerts pointing to the possibility that agents of al
Qaeda may be planning an attack against U.S. military or civilian
A June 22 alert said the U.S. government had learned "that
American citizens and interests abroad may be at increased risk of a
terrorist action from extremist groups."
Most recently, on Friday, Sept. 7, the State Department issued a
worldwide alert warning "American citizens may be the target of a
terrorist threat from extremist groups with links to [Osama bin
Laden's] al Qaeda organization."
That report cited information gathered in May that suggested an
attack somewhere was imminent. It warned that individuals in al
Qaeda "have not distinguished between official and civilian
U.S. officials familiar with terrorist investigations tell
ABCNEWS the majority of threats the United States has detected in
recent days and weeks have been nonspecific and concerned overseas
They said they were focusing on gathering information that would
lead to the perpetrators and that they believe there was information
pointing on the direction of bin Laden's organization.
U.S. government facilities overseas have been on a heightened
state of alert since the bombing of the Cole.
Possible Warning Last Month
An Arab journalist with access to bin Laden said the Saudi-born
dissident had warned three weeks ago that he and his followers would
carry out an unprecedented attack on U.S. interests, according to
Reuters news agency.
"It is most likely the work of Islamic fundamentalists. Osama bin
Laden warned three weeks ago that he would attack American interests
in an unprecedented attack, a very big one," said Abdel-Bari Atwan,
editor of the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi, an
Arabic-language weekly news magazine.
"Personally, we received information that he planned very, very
big attacks against American interests. We received several warnings
like this. We did not take it so seriously, preferring to see what
would happen before reporting it."
Bin Laden is suspected of residing and running terrorist training
camps in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
A spokesman for the Taliban, the hard-line Islamic organization
that rules most of Afghanistan, said today he couldn't rule out bin
Laden was involved.
Asked through a translator whether he could rule out bin Laden,
spokesman Wakil Ahmed Mutawakel responded: "No, up until now, no one
has blamed or accused or him."
"We criticize terrorism in all its forms," he said in a news
conference in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Analysts say that, in a new trend, independent terrorist cells
loosely associated with bin Laden have begun to focus on the United
States as a target.
Clues about such groups were given to U.S. authorities by
convicted Algerian bomb smuggler Ahmed Ressam, who was arrested in
Washington state in December 1999 and has confessed to planning to
explode a large bomb at Los Angeles International Airport.
Ressam, who authorities believe was linked to bin Laden, told
authorities the exiled Saudi dissident has been seeking in recent
years to join forces with other terrorist groups, including
battle-hardened Algerians who were veterans of that country's brutal
Ressam's testimony was "very chilling and dramatic testimony
about his training in camps in Afghanistan and later he was sent as
a secret cell into Canada and turned on then during the millennium
[celebration as 1999 ended and 2000 begain]," says William
Livingstone, deputy communications director for the corporate
security firm GlobalOptions. "He was saying that there are many
different secret cells that are trained and deployed around the
An article in the respected Jane's Intelligence Review
last month said cells have been detected in more than 50
countries including the United States, Canada, Italy and Germany,
where they were neutralized but "have since been replaced."
CIA Director George Tenet in February noted the trend in an
annual statement on worldwide threats before the Senate Select
Bin Laden's "organization is continuing to place emphasis on
developing surrogates to carry out attacks in an effort to avoid
detection, blame, and retaliation," Tenet said. "As a result it is
often difficult to attribute terrorist incidents to his group."
Terrorists not closely connected to another group are also a
concern to for U.S. officials.
The classic example is the Middle Eastern-born Ramzi Yousef, who
was convicted for masterminding the February 1993 bombing of the
World Trade Center, which killed six people. Yousef also was found
to have plotted to blow up 11 U.S. airliners in an attack
coordinated with at least five other men.
Such "loosely affiliated extremists may pose the most urgent
threat to the United States at this time because their membership is
relatively unknown to law enforcement, and because they can exploit
the mobility that emerging technology and a loose organizational
structure offer," former FBI director Louis Freeh told a
congressional committee in 1998.
It may be most difficult determining the identities of those
persons directly responsible for today's attacks, since they died in
the suicide attacks.
"It's likely we're probably never going to know who the people
were who actually were on board the aircraft, and it will be very
difficult to trace who those people were," says Tim Brown, a
counterintelligence expert also with GlobalSecurity.com.
Determining whether bin Laden's group or some other group was
behind it all will take, in part, a massive review of intercepted
global communications gathered prior to today.
"Unavoidably, they're going to have to go back through everything
they've previously collected and see what if anything they missed,"
"That's like trying to look for the gene that causes
Alzheimer's," says Brown. "They're going to have to go through tons
and tons of data and they may never have even had the tidbit they
ABCNEWS' Howard Rosenberg contributed to this