White House Al Qaeda trying to boost efforts in US

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WASHINGTON, Oct 9 (Reuters) Al Qaeda remains the ''most serious and dangerous'' terrorism threat and is expected to boost attempts to place agents inside the United States, a new White House report said today.

The report, titled ''National Strategy for Homeland Security,'' said al Qaeda has protected its top leadership, replenished operational lieutenants and ''regenerated a safe haven'' in Pakistan's tribal areas.

White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend, asked whether al Qaeda infiltration efforts were under way, replied: ''There's no question. They're not only under way, they're ongoing and have been.'' The White House report incorporated findings of a national intelligence estimate released earlier this year.

''Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to al Qaeda senior leadership, the group likely will intensify its efforts to place operatives here in the homeland,'' it said.

Despite reports of safe haven for al Qaeda in Pakistan, the White House reiterated that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had been a helpful ally in fighting terrorism. ''We have enjoyed some of our biggest successes with our allies in Pakistan,'' Townsend told reporters.

The report was an update to the first White House national homeland security strategy issued in July 2002, which was after the September 11 attacks but before the US-led invasion of Iraq.

US-led efforts to hunt down al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden have been unsuccessful and he has repeatedly issued audio and video tapes over the years showing that he remains alive.

US officials suspect he is hiding in the remote mountainous border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda was expected to continue to enhance its ability to attack the United States through greater cooperation with regional extremist groups, particularly al Qaeda in Iraq, the report said.

Al Qaeda in Iraq currently is ''the group's most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack us here,'' the report said.

President George W Bush repeatedly has said Iraq is a central front in the war against terrorism. But critics say the Bush administration's focus on the Iraq war has taken resources away from hunting down al Qaeda leaders.

''We recognize that our efforts also must involve offense at home and abroad,'' Bush said in a letter accompanying the report. ''Today, our nation is safer, but we are not yet safe.'' The report also cites the Lebanese militant group Hizbollah as a potential threat to the United States. ''Hizbollah may increasingly consider attacking the homeland if it perceives the United States as posing a direct threat to the group or Iran, its principal sponsor,'' the report said.

Reuters PDT VP0010

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