US prepares for new attacks after warning on tape


US: With a new public threat from al-Qaeda, US law enforcement officials said yesterday they were preparing for other possible attacks on America, adding warnings about ferries to those involving commercial airlines.

"I feel every day that we operate toward the notion that there will be one," Secretary of Homeland Security Mr Tom Ridge told NBC's Meet the Press. Attorney General Mr John Ashcroft, speaking on Fox News Sunday, said: "The potential for us to be hit again is a very real potential." The officials spoke in regard to an audio tape purportedly from top al-Qaeda official Ayman al-Zawahri warning the United States it would pay a high price if it harmed detainees at a US base in Cuba, saying the "real battle" had not yet begun.

"America has announced it will start putting on trial in front of military tribunals the Muslim detainees at Guantanamo and might sentence them to death . . ."

"I swear in the name of God that the crusader America will pay a dear price for any harm it inflicts on any of the Muslim detainees," said the tape broadcast by Dubai-based Al Arabiya television.

"We tell America only one thing. What you have suffered until now is only the initial skirmishes. The real battle has not started yet."

Zawahri has appeared at bin Laden's side in almost every video-taped statement from the al-Qaeda leader since the September 11th, 2001, hijacked plane attacks on US cities, which killed about 3,000 people.

The speaker threatened to punish any country that hands over any Muslim suspect to Washington. "Let those who conspire with America know that America is incapable of protecting itself."

Zawahri is an Egyptian doctor who set up a militant group that tried to topple Egypt's government in the 1990s. It was the first audio tape apparently from him since May 21st when another taped message made threats against the US.

Washington is holding more than 600 people from 42 nations at the Guantanamo naval base.

Mr Ashcroft said US authorities had not authenticated the tape but he dismissed as ironic the notion al-Qaeda would wait to inflict further harm on the US.

"I believe al-Qaeda wants to strike us. I believe they want to strike us whenever and wherever they can. I believe we have disrupted dozens and dozens and dozens, over a hundred terrorist-related attacks around the world since 9/11," Mr Ashcroft said.

Mr Ridge said he was grateful another attack against Americans had not yet occurred.

"There are probably a lot of reasons for it. But I'm grateful and every single day that we work to thwart or prevent a terrorist attack and reduce our vulnerability makes it tougher and tougher for them to assault us," he said.

Mr Ridge's department last week warned the airline industry that al-Qaeda was planning new suicide hijackings and bombings in the US or abroad, saying the danger would last until at least the end of summer.

A day after the US suspended programs that allow some foreigners to enter the US without a visa, Mr Ridge said a new advisory had also been sent out to ferry operators nationwide, warning of possible attacks.

"It was specific information about ferry operators," he said, but like other such warnings, was issued as a precaution.