Al Qaeda forming new cells worldwide
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Al Qaeda members who fled Afghanistan after the U.S.-led counter-terrorism offensive began last fall are forming what anti-terror coalition intelligence analysts are calling "super cells" in locations stretching from North Africa to Southeast Asia.
Coalition intelligence said al Qaeda operatives in coalition custody told their interrogators that men who trained in Afghan camps run by Osama bin Laden have returned to their home nations. There, they have formed alliances with other extremist groups to create "super cells," while the main al Qaeda leadership struggles to regroup, sources said.
During testimony Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan has disrupted the terror network's activities. Still, he said, al Qaeda continues to have operatives in more than 60 countries, including the United States.
"For every terrorist plot we discover and every terrorist cell we disrupt, there are dozens of others in the works," Rumsfeld said.
The United States doesn't know whether bin Laden is dead or alive, said Rumsfeld, who noted that "plenty of people" -- about six to 12 other top al Qaeda leaders -- can fill bin Laden's place.
"They know where the bank accounts are, they know the names of the people who were trained, they know the sleeper cells that exist around the world," Rumsfeld said.
Gen. Tommy Franks, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Central Command, who testified at the same hearing, said al Qaeda's senior leadership "is in disarray" because of the war.
"However, al Qaeda has not lost its will to conceive, plan and execute terrorist operations worldwide," Franks said.
According to sources, the new "super cells" operate on their own without guidance from the men who once trained and directed them. The sources also said the groups have the capability to launch frequent small- and medium-scale attacks -- assassinations, bombings and attacks -- on places where Westerners congregate, such as tourist destinations.
Intelligence analysts said the attack last spring against French naval engineers in Pakistan and another against German tourists in Tunisia that killed 23 people were examples of "super cell" operations.
While these new terrorist groups plan and execute their operations independently, they do have access to a central money source, the same analysts said.
Intelligence sources said a such an organization in Morocco, which was planning attacks against U.S. and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar, was wired more than $300,000 from supporters in Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
The formation of "super cells" does not mean the end of the threat from the central al Qaeda leadership, which is believed hiding along the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, coalition intelligence sources said.
Intelligence analysts said they think al Qaeda is working to reconstruct its central leadership so it can again launch operations on the scale of the September 11 attacks.
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