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FIGHTING TERROR

Bush rejects ex-aide's claims

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said yesterday he would have acted more quickly against Al Qaeda if he had information before Sept. 11, 2001, that a terror attack against New York City was imminent.

"We have been chasing down Al Qaeda ever since those attacks," Bush said.

In his first direct response to criticism raised in a new book by his former counterterrorism adviser, Richard A. Clarke, Bush rejected assertions that he ignored Osama bin Laden and the threat of the Al Qaeda terror network before the terror attacks and that he rushed to blame Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

"The facts are these: George Tenet briefed me on a regular basis about the terrorist threat to the United States of America, and had my administration had any information that terrorists were going to attack New York City on Sept. 11, we would have acted," Bush said. Tenet is the CIA director.

Bush also expressed concerns both with Israel's assassination of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin on Monday and a threat by Hamas to retaliate against both Israel and the United States.

"I worry about terrorist groups targeting America," he said. "There are still serious threats because of what we stand for. There are still people who want to harm our country. And so whether it be a Hamas threat or an Al Qaeda threat, we take them very seriously."

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