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Pentagon chief cancels Albania visit over terrorist threat

bin Laden
U.S. officials believe bin Laden is in the final stages of planning a terrorist attack against the United States

CNN's David Ensor reports on the change in Secretary of Defense Cohen's travel plans due to security issues in Albania.
Windows Media 28K 80K

July 15, 1999
Web posted at: 7:30 p.m. EDT (2330 GMT)

From Correspondents Chris Plante and Jamie McIntyre

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen canceled a visit to Albania this week to avoid a "hornets' nest" of Osama bin Laden operatives, CNN has learned.

Defense Department sources told CNN that the Albania visit was dropped from a six-nation trip to Europe because of "a threat on the ground" related to Islamic militants affiliated with bin Laden,the alleged mastermind of the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa last year.

The sources, who asked not to be named, declined to elaborate on the threat. But they said indications of a possible attack came from intercepted communications.

U.S. officials have said that bin Laden's organization is believed to be in the final stages of planning a terrorist attack against U.S. interests somewhere in the world. His operatives are known to have been active in Albania, a predominantly Muslim nation, as well as in Africa and other areas.

The Albania visit, which had been scheduled for last Tuesday, would have included meetings between Cohen and the Albanian president, prime minister and defense minister, as well as a gathering with U.S. troops in the country and a news conference. The stop had been intended to last about five hours and did not include an overnight stay.

Cohen's staff told reporters traveling with him that thevisit was canceled because there was no longer a significant number of U.S. troops in Albania.

Cohen and his party left Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday and rather than stopping in Albania, visited U.S. commanders in Tuzla, Bosnia, before continuing on to a scheduled stop in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Reporters asked Cohen en route back to the United States if a threat by bin Laden played a role in the cancellation of the Albania visit. Cohen replied that the schedule change was not "solely" due to security concerns, but he would not rule out the possibility that a terrorist threat may have been a factor.

"Based on information that I have been following, (bin Laden) remains dedicated to trying to conduct a terrorist operation," Cohen said. "Whether it is in the final stages, or intermediate stages, we are satisfied that he intends to continue his campaign of terror, and we are just as determined to try and prevent it from taking place and remain very vigilant on it."

Bin Laden, a Saudi-born businessman, has been stripped of his citizenship by the Saudi government. He recently was placed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list, and the State Department has offered a $5 million reward for his capture.

Last week, leaders of Afghanistan's Taliban militia acknowledged that bin Laden is living in a part of Afghanistan under their control.

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