10 Plots Foiled Since Sept. 11, Bush Declares
David E. Sanger, The New York Times:
President Bush on Thursday tried to refocus American attention on terrorism, declaring in a speech that the United States and its partners had disrupted 10 serious plots since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The White House said they included a failed effort in 2002 to use hijacked airplanes to attack "targets on the West Coast," and a similar plot on the East Coast in 2003.
The 2002 plot appeared to be the most significant disclosure, and counterterrorism officials said Thursday evening that it had been led by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is said to have been the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. He was captured in Pakistan in 2003. READ MORE
A listing, produced hastily several hours after Mr. Bush's speech, also included some previously known cases, including the one that led to the arrest in May 2002 of Jose Padilla, who intelligence officials say was exploring the possibility of setting off a dirty bomb in an American city. It was not immediately clear whether other items on the list represented significant threats.
The president's speech came on a day of a major terror alert involving a possible bombing threat in the New York subways.
The speech also came as senior government officials described a warning from one senior leader of Al Qaeda to another that attacks on civilians and videotaped executions committed by his followers could jeopardize their broader cause.
Mr. Bush used his speech, before the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, to warn that Syria and Iran had become "allies of convenience" for Islamic terror groups, appearing to step up political pressure on both countries. He said, "The United States makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support and harbor them," and he warned that the "the civilized world must hold those regimes to account."
A senior White House official said Thursday evening that the president's 40-minute speech arose from Mr. Bush's desire to remind Americans, after "a lot of distractions" in recent months, that the country was still under threat, and had no choice but to remain in Iraq so Al Qaeda did not use it as a base to train for attacks on the United States and its allies.
The warning from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the top militant leader in Iraq, was spelled out in a 6,000-word letter, dated early in July, that was obtained by American forces conducting counterterrorism operations in Iraq, the official said.
Mr. Bush's warnings about the need for renewed American attention to "this global struggle," and the release of information on past plots that the White House had previously been reluctant to discuss on security grounds, comes at a moment of heightened criticism of the president's handling of the Iraq war and the broader effort against terrorism. It also comes as he is trying to heal fractures in his own party about his selection of a nominee for the Supreme Court, and as he has faced complaints about the government's response to Hurricane Katrina.
A poll released by CBS News on Thursday evening indicated that Mr. Bush's approval rating had dropped to 37 percent, and that disapproval of his handling of terrorism was at an all-time high.
Democrats were quick to answer Mr. Bush, saying that he was gliding past major errors of tactics and strategy in Iraq, and that Al Qaeda began operating there only after the American invasion.
Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, said: "The truth is, the administration's mishandling of the war in Iraq has made us less safe, and Iraq risks becoming what it was not before the war: a training ground for terrorists." Mr. Reid, of Nevada, said it was vital that the administration change course in Iraq.
In an unusual move, Mr. Bush named Osama bin Laden, the Qaeda leader, five times in his speech, and quoted Mr. bin Laden's own statements to support the president's argument that terror groups inspired by Al Qaeda were trying to "enslave whole nations and intimidate the world," starting in Iraq.
"They achieved their goal, for a time, in Afghanistan," Mr. Bush said of the country that was Mr. bin Laden's sanctuary until the American-led invasion in the fall of 2001.
"Now they've set their sights on Iraq," he continued. "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.' "
Mr. Bush compared Islamic militant leaders - at one point he used the phrase "Islamo-fascism" - to Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, and said their ideology, "like the ideology of communism, contains inherent contradictions that doom it to failure."
He addressed criticism that he has deliberately conflated the battle on terrorism with the question of whether to remain in Iraq, an issue on which members of his own party are increasingly divided. He said those calling for an American withdrawal to avoid inciting militancy were engaging in "a dangerous illusion."
"Would the United States and other free nations be more safe, or less safe, with Zarqawi and bin Laden in control of Iraq, its people and its resources?" he asked. "Having removed a dictator who hated free peoples, we will not stand by as a new set of killers, dedicated to the destruction of our own country, seizes control of Iraq by violence."
Mr. Bush used particularly harsh language in referring to Syria and Iran. While the administration has steadily been increasing pressure on Syria for the last few months, it had held back, until just two weeks ago, from direct criticism of the new Iranian government, which has declared it will never give up its ability to produce nuclear fuel. The United States has contended that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program, which it denies.
But on Thursday, Mr. Bush took up what he and Britain have charged is Iran's continuing, covert support for insurgents in Iraq.
He said militants "have been sheltered by authoritarian regimes, allies of convenience, like Syria and Iran, that share the goal of hurting America and moderate Muslim governments and use terrorist propaganda to blame their own failures on the West and America and on the Jews."
As he has before, the president compared Islamic militants' ideology to the Communist expansionism of the last century. The militants were being aided, he said, "by elements of the Arab news media that incite hatred and anti-Semitism."
"Against such an enemy, there's only one effective response: We never back down, never give in and never accept anything less than complete victory," he said.
The White House released no details of the two hijacking plots that it said were disrupted.
The Sept. 11 commission had said in its report last year that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had originally envisioned a broader operation in which as many as 10 aircraft would be hijacked and crashed into targets on both coasts. That report said Mr. Mohammed had described such a plot to his American interrogators.
But it had not previously been disclosed publicly that Mr. Mohammed envisioned carrying out a new plot on targets in the West Coast in 2002, after the Sept. 11 attacks. Some other plots listed by the White House have been known, including a thwarted attack in Britain in 2004.
The list also included other plots to bomb several sites in Britain in 2004; to attack Heathrow Airport in London using hijacked commercial airliners in 2003; to attack Westerners at several places in Karachi, Pakistan, in spring 2003; to attack ships in the Persian Gulf in late 2002 and 2003; to attack ships in the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow part of the gulf where it opens into the Arabian Sea, in 2002; and to attack a tourist site outside the United States in 2003.
Douglas Jehl contributed reporting from Washington for this article, and Marjorie Connelly from New York.