Al-Qaida's faction in Iraq considered attack inside U.S.

January 23, 2007|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Al-Qaida's Iraq-based faction considered trying to use student visas to get a dozen or more operatives into the United States to launch an attack, a ploy that had been successful for one of the hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a U.S. counterterrorism official confirmed yesterday.

The plot appeared to be little more than an informal list of al-Qaida-affiliated operatives and initial plans that was found during a search of a militants' hide-out in Iraq early last year, shortly before al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi died in a U.S. airstrike, the official said.

But it was deemed serious enough to alert the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, which mobilized agents in the United States to look for possible terrorists and for signs of attempted infiltration, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"Almost anything from al-Qaida in Iraq is taken very seriously. Even though they don't normally operate beyond the region, the fact that they were thinking about that, and considering this method to enter the country, is serious in and of itself," said the U.S. official.

The plot was confirmed by a second U.S. counterterrorism official, who described the seized document as showing the scheme to be a group of men "discussing ideas, not an actual operation that was in progress."

In the end, U.S. authorities concluded that none of the operatives had entered the United States, that one of its leaders was already dead and that the effort never got past the drawing board, the official said.

Details of the nascent plot were first reported yesterday by ABC News. It was also mentioned by Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, during his testimony last week before the Senate Intelligence Committee during a hearing on threats to the United States.

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