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Senator: Al Qaeda cells inside United States

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham
U.S. Sen. Bob Graham  

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Dozens of al Qaeda terrorists in "sleeper" cells and members of other terrorist groups pose a threat within the United States, according to the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"The estimate is that there are 100 or more al Qaeda operatives inside the United States, some who have been here for a considerable period of time, all of whom went through a training process to prepare them to carry out terrorist plots when they were called upon to do so," U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said Friday on CNN's "Novak, Hunt and Shields."

"That probably is the most immediate threat of a terrorist attack against the United States."

In addition, there are perhaps a dozen or more other international terrorist organizations that also have agents inside the United States, he said.

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Asked about the possibility of a U.S. attack on Iraq -- which President Bush called part of an "axis of evil" last month in his State of the Union address -- Graham said it would carry a heavy cost if it were to occur.

"Fighting a war inside a city like Baghdad is not going to be a cakewalk and would probably entail significant exposure to casualties," he said.

Graham said that, absent evidence that Iraq is close to obtaining a weapon of mass destruction, "I think we should avoid the temptation of diverting ourselves away from the war on terrorism toward a war on Saddam Hussein."

Asked the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks and head of al Qaeda, Graham said, "The best intelligence is that he's still alive. The best intelligence is that, of all the places he might be, he's most likely to still be in Afghanistan. But frankly, we do not know where he is at this time."

Graham said he is confident that bin Laden "will eventually be found dead or alive and that part of this case will be brought to closure."




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