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Report warns of replenished Al Qaeda

US analysts see pre-9/11 strength, Pakistani haven

WASHINGTON -- US intelligence analysts have concluded that Al Qaeda has rebuilt its operating capability to a level not seen since just before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The conclusion suggests that the group that launched the most devastating terror attack on the United States has been able to rebuild despite nearly six years of bombings, war, and other tactics aimed at crippling it.

Government officials said they know of no specific, credible threat of a new attack.

A counterterrorism official familiar with a five-page summary of the new government threat assessment called it a stark appraisal that will be discussed at the White House today as part of a broader meeting on an upcoming National Intelligence Estimate.

The official and others spoke on the condition of anonymity because the report is classified.

Counterterrorism analysts produced the document, titled "Al Qaeda better positioned to strike the West." The document pays special heed to the terror group's haven in Pakistan and makes a range of observations about the threat posed to the United States and its allies, officials said.

Al Qaeda is "considerably operationally stronger than a year ago" and has "regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001," the official said, paraphrasing the report's conclusions. "They are showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States."

The group also has created "the most robust training program since 2001, with an interest in using European operatives," the official quoted the report as saying.

At the same time, this official said, the report speaks of "significant gaps in intelligence," so US authorities may be ignorant of potential or planned attacks.

John Kringen, who heads the CIA's analysis directorate, echoed the concerns about Al Qaeda's resurgence during testimony and conversations with reporters at a House Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday.

"They seem to be fairly well settled into the safe haven and the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan," Kringen testified. "We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications. We see that activity rising."

The threat assessment was being made as the National Intelligence Council prepares a National Intelligence Estimate focusing on threats to the United States. Kringen and aides to Mike McConnell, National Intelligence director, would not comment on the details of that analysis.

Counterterrorism officials have been increasingly concerned about Al Qaeda's recent operations. This week, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he had a "gut feeling" that the United States faced a heightened risk of attack this summer.

Kringen said he wouldn't attach a summer timetable to the concern. He said the easiest way to get into the United States would be through Europe.

The new threat assessment puts particular focus on Pakistan .

"Sooner or later you have to quit permitting them to have a safe haven" along the Afghan-Pakistani border, he told the House committee. "At the end of the day, when we have had success, it is when you've been able to get them worried about who was informing on them, get them worried about who was coming after them."

Several European countries -- among them Britain, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands -- are also highlighted in the threat assessment partly because they have arrangements with the Pakistani government that allow their citizens easier access to Pakistan than others, according to the counterterrorism official.

This is more troubling because all four are part of the US visa waiver program, and their citizens can enter the United States without additional security scrutiny, the official said.

The report also notes that Al Qaeda has increased its public statements, although analysts stressed that those video and audio messages aren't reliable indicators of the actions the group may take.

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