Bush tells of foiled plots

Shifting attention to terrorism, he says schemes were halted


WASHINGTON -- In an address designed to counter growing skepticism about his foreign policy objectives, President Bush yesterday cited at least 10 al-Qaida plots that America and its allies had disrupted and stressed that Islamic extremists are determined to use Iraq as a staging ground to carry out more attacks.

"Against such an enemy there is only one effective response," he said. "We will never back down, never give in and never accept anything less than complete victory."

Bush said the U.S.-led war in Iraq was part of a worldwide anti-terrorism strategy initiated after the Sept. 11 attacks. The White House later issued a list of the foiled plots, including Sept. 11-style attacks on the East Coast and West Coast, a plot to blow up apartment buildings, and surveillance of gas stations, bridges and tourist sites nationwide.

However, several senior law enforcement officials questioned whether many of the incidents on the White House list ever constituted an imminent threat to public safety and said authorities have not disrupted any operational plot within the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The lengthy speech, billed as a major policy address, came at the end of a weeklong effort by his administration to shore up popular support for the central tenets of his foreign policy. Bush's approval rating has fallen to new lows in recent polls.

Support for the Iraq war has declined in the weeks after a big demonstration in Washington and a monthlong protest outside Bush's vacation home in Texas brought new visibility to the war's opponents.

Although the arguments he used were not new, Bush described the war on terrorism and its link to Iraq in grander terms than he has in the past, equating it to the Cold War that dominated U.S. foreign policy throughout the second half of the 20th century.

Bush said America's failure to respond more aggressively to attacks in Beirut, Lebanon, during the Ronald Reagan administration and in Mogadishu, Somalia, during Bill Clinton's presidency had convinced terrorists they had a winning strategy: "They hit us, and expect us to run."

Withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq would only reinforce that conviction, Bush said, and would not happen on his watch.

Bush described al-Qaida figures Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as modern-day equivalents of such 20th-century tyrants as Stalin, Hitler and Cambodia's Pol Pot.

And in an unusual move, Bush named bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader, five times in his speech, and quoted bin Laden's statements to support Bush's argument that terror groups inspired by al-Qaida were trying to "enslave whole nations and intimidate the world," starting in Iraq.

"They achieved their goal, for a time, in Afghanistan," Bush said of the country that was bin Laden's sanctuary until the U.S.-led invasion in the fall of 2001. "Now they've set their sights on Iraq. Bin Laden has stated: `The whole world is watching this war and the two adversaries. It's either victory and glory, or misery and humiliation.'"

Bush warned that Syria and Iran had become "allies of convenience" for Islamic terrorist groups, appearing to step up political pressure on both countries. He said that "The United States makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support and harbor them," and warned that "the civilized world must hold those regimes to account."

He acknowledged the human toll of the war in Iraq, where more than 1,900 U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqis have been killed, and said the casualty count would certainly rise.

But the president quarreled with critics who contend the U.S. presence in Iraq was inspiring even more disaffected Muslims to join the terrorists, or that pulling out of Iraq would cause their anger to subside.

"I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on Sept. 11, 2001, and al-Qaida attacked us anyway," Bush said. "The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue, and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse."

Those remarks, however, appeared to counter recent statements by ground commanders in Iraq, including two generals who told lawmakers last week the presence of U.S. troops was fueling the insurgency and energizing terrorists within Iraq and across the Middle East.

On Capitol Hill, Republican leaders said Bush's speech demonstrated his "strong, principled leadership," but Democrats criticized the president for perpetuating what they called a false linkage between the Sept. 11 attacks and the Iraq war.

"The president went into Iraq on the basis of a false premise, without a plan, and has totally mismanaged the war," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. "Now he's trying to justify his actions with a series of excuses that are not reasons for us to be there."

After Bush's speech, the White House described the 10 "serious" terrorist plots Bush mentioned, including three al-Qaida "plots to attack within the United States."

One of the three U.S. "terrorist plots" cited by the White House was the case of Chicago native Jose Padilla, who has been accused of being an enemy combatant and is being held by the U.S. military. The White House said yesterday that U.S. authorities disrupted a plan by Padilla and others to blow up apartment buildings in the United States and that Padilla had discussed the possible detonation of a radiological "dirty bomb" somewhere in the U.S.

However, senior federal law enforcement officials said yesterday that while Padilla is believed to have discussed attacks in the United States with senior al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan, they have not found any evidence of co-conspirators on U.S. soil or any other indication that the plot had gone from the drawing board to any kind of operational plan.

Warren Vieth and Josh Meyer write for the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times contributed to this article.

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