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Consumer Reports

Germany: Bin Laden alive, al Qaida active | (UPI) -- Osama bin Laden is still alive and his al Qaida network has the ability to launch a major terrorist attack in Germany, the head of the country's Federal Intelligence Service warned Tuesday.

"Osma bin Laden is not just alive, he's active ... al Qaida is fully operational," declared August Hanning in a television interview on the German public TV channel ZDF.

Hanning said the intelligence service, known as the BND, had seen evidence gathered by American and other intelligence agencies suggesting the network's leadership continues to be capable of launching terrorist attacks against Germany and the rest of the world.

"We share this viewpoint," added Hanning.

Appearing on the popular German political documentary television show "Frontal21" Hanning said al Qaida wants to prove it still exists and is capable of mounting such an attack.

The U.S. government says bin Laden's organization was responsible for the attacks on Sept. 11 last year on New York and Washington. A full-scale search was mounted for the Saudi-born millionaire fugitive and his followers in Afghanistan, but U.S. officials have admitted that both he and many of his top lieutenants have not been found either dead or alive.

Hanning said fears of further al Qaida attacks were "very real" and would also be in a "greater dimension" than the Sept. 11 hijacked plane crashes that destroyed New York's World Trade Center and a wing of the Pentagon.

Key al Qaida operatives -- including alleged Sept. 11 ringleader Mohammed Atta, and others of the 19 hijackers -- spent time in Hamburg and other German cities while planning their suicide attacks. Since Sept. 11 2001, German police have arrested several alleged al Qaida members including Abdelghani Mzoudi, a Moroccan who is believed to have recruited Atta.

The BND chief ruled out that the possibility that al Qaida had access to nuclear weapons but said the terror network could have developed radiological devices -- so-called "dirty bombs" -- which use conventional explosive to scatter radioactive material over a wide area.

Hanning said Germany's intelligence service suspects bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are hiding in the Afghan-Pakistani border area southeast of the capital Kabul.

"(Bin Laden) has numerous helpers. He operates in regions where access is very difficult. He also changes his location. That makes the situation very hard," added Hanning.

German intelligence believes that there are still over 5,000 al Qaida and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that the leadership-in-hiding is looking at "forming new structures."

Hanning said that recent information received from collaborating intelligence organizations shows a recognizable increase in worldwide communications between members of the al Qaida terrorist network in recent weeks and months.

German authorities have increased anti-terror precautions recently to the same level they were immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks. Security was tightened after a recorded message was broadcast on the Qatar-based Arabic television news station Al Jazeera on Oct. 8. The recording -- alleged to have been made by bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri -- mentioned Germany in a warning to Western powers.

In the recorded message, the voice says, "The mujahed (holy warriors) youth has already sent messages to Germany and France. However, if these doses are not enough, we are prepared, with the help of Allah, to inject further doses."

Hanning said that there are a number of active terror cells in Europe, which are linked with each other and some of these have signaled their readiness to launch attacks. "We are taking this very seriously," concluded Hanning. "We have to presume there is a real threat in Europe and also in Germany," he said.

Asked whether the new terrorist threat was in retaliation for Germany's support in the U.S.-led war against terrorism, Hanning said German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had assured the American people of his full solidarity.

"We have supported the Americans in the war against terror in Afghanistan," he said. "We are playing an important role in rebuilding Afghanistan, in peacekeeping in Afghanistan. German will be assuming a so-called lead function as from January, together with the Netherlands. The German navy has been operational in the Horn of Africa. This brings us into the focus of the al Qaida, which is how I understand the Zawahiri declaration."

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© 2002, UPI