Clinton pledges all-out response Order aims to financially squeeze bin Laden's terrorist network

'We must be prepared for a long battle'

Congress rallies around president

fallout continues around world

August 23, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton vowed yesterday that the United States would use "all the tools at our disposal" to fight the terrorist network of Osama bin Laden, as the administration outlined efforts to squeeze him financially after the U.S. cruise-missile strikes Thursday in Afghanistan and Sudan.

"Our efforts against terrorism cannot and will not end with this strike," Clinton declared in his weekly radio address.

As he vacationed with his family on Martha's Vineyard, Clinton announced that he had signed an executive order, effective a day earlier, that asks the Treasury Department to block any financial transactions with U.S. companies by bin Laden, two of his lieutenants and what the United States says is his principal terrorist organization, the Islamic Army.

Nearly 48 hours after the United States attacked a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan and a training camp in Afghanistan with roughly 75 cruise missiles, the administration also provided more detail on the damage it said was done to bin Laden's network.

A day after cloudy weather partly obscured the extent of the damage in Afghanistan, White House spokesman Mike McCurry said satellite photographs showed the strike hit all six separate sites within the sprawling training camp in a remote, mountainous area about 90 miles south of the capital, Kabul.

A full assessment could take more time, but McCurry, sticking to the measured claims of the day after the attack, said the strike had caused "moderate to severe" damage to the site's barracks, ammunition depots and other facilities. Bin Laden has used the camp in the past, but his whereabouts remained unclear yesterday.

"We have severely damaged the ability of the Osama bin Ladennetwork to operate from these camps," McCurry said, speaking to reporters on Martha's Vineyard.

Bin Laden, a Saudi exile accused of underwriting attacks by terrorist groups around the world, is believed to have an inherited fortune exceeding $200 million invested in a network of agricultural, construction and financial companies that, officials say, helps pay for and conceal terrorist activities.

Signed hours after strikes

The president's order, which he signed only hours after the U.S. strikes, places bin Laden and his associates on a list of terrorists monitored by the Treasury Department.

The order prohibits all Americans and U.S. companies from having any financial transactions with them, including business and fund raising. It also requires banks to freeze any assets found to belong to them.

The effort is not likely to have a significant impact on bin Laden's financial empire because, a senior administration official said, he does not appear to have many assets that would fall under the scope of the law.

"We would not expect this single step to cripple this network any more than we would expect a single military action in Khost, in Afghanistan, to cripple this network," the official said.

But the official said the administration hoped that the formal legal step would prompt other countries to help freeze bin Laden's assets.

In his radio address, the president called for precisely that.

"It takes money -- lots of it -- to build the network bin Laden has," Clinton said. "We'll do our best to see that he has less of it."

Support for Sudan

Around the world, the fallout from the missile strikes continued.

The Arab League announced yesterday that it would hold a meeting in Cairo, Egypt, tomorrow to coordinate support for Sudan.

In Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, another day of protests began yesterday. President Omar Hassan Ahmed el-Bashir pledged to retaliate for the destruction of a pharmaceutical factory that, U.S. officials maintained, produced material for chemical weapons.

In Washington, lawmakers rallied around the president.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona expressed strong support for Clinton's efforts.

"The president deserves our support for acting swiftly and decisively," McCain said in the Republican Party's weekly radio address. "The military strikes he ordered against targets in Afghanistan and Sudan were appropriate. America's armed forces carried out their mission with skill and professionalism."

The president's senior national security advisers -- Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen -- went to Capitol Hill to build support for the strikes.

In a classified briefing Friday, they also laid out evidence the administration says links bin Laden to terrorist attacks, including the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on Aug. 7, which killed about 250 people, including 12 Americans.

'Compelling evidence'

In his radio address, Clinton thanked congressional leaders for bipartisan support for the attacks. He said the United States had "compelling evidence" that bin Laden's network "was poised to strike at us again -- and soon."

Clinton emphasized that Islam and its adherents were not the threat, trying to draw distinctions between the Islamic world in general and what he called "a callous, criminal organization."

"Hundreds of millions of Muslims all over the world -- including millions right here in the United States -- oppose terrorism and deplore the twisting of their religious teachings into justification of inhumane, indeed, ungodly acts," he said.

Although he vowed to press the fight, Clinton, echoing similar remarks by Albright and other aides, grimly suggested that Thursday's strikes, however effective, were not likely to put an end to bin Laden's self-proclaimed war on the United States and U.S. interests.

"We should have realistic expectations about what a single action can achieve," he said. "And we must be prepared for a long battle."

Pub Date: 8/23/98

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