U.S. blasts large cache of weapons
U.S. officials are believing even more that bin Laden is in Pakistan.
WASHINGTON -- U.S. bombers blasted a large cache of Taliban and Al-Qaida armored tanks and weapons as part of the effort to eradicate the remnants of the terrorist network inside Afghanistan, American military officials said today.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said American aircraft flew 118 sorties and conducted four airstrikes in the Zawar and Khost area Sunday.
That included the third strike in recent days of a military compound in eastern Afghanistan where terrorist leader Osama bin Laden's followers have been regrouping, she added.
"That would be the third time on that complex," Clarke told reporters.
Weapons: A second senior Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the strikes also were designed to hit a major weapons cache found by U.S. military forces in the region.
"We found lots of weapons, tanks and APC's [armored personnel carriers]. So instead of going in and blowing them up on the ground -- which would take too much time -- we just bombed it," the officer said.
The strikes were conducted by long-range B-52 and B-1 bombers, as well as carrier-based strike planes from warships in the Indian Ocean, the officer said.
Pursuing leaders: Americans and their Afghan allies are pursuing bin Laden, blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks against New York and Washington, and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the one-eyed cleric who led the Taliban and gave bin Laden and his Al-Qaida network a base of operations.
But two members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee said Sunday that U.S. officials are beginning to believe bin Laden has fled Afghanistan, possibly for Pakistan.
The Pentagon plans tight security for hundreds of Al-Qaida and Taliban captives expected at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and is sending 1,500 military police and other troops to build a prison there.
Already, 1,000 U.S. troops have orders for Cuba -- some by way of southwest Asia, where they will help transport the prisoners around the world to the base, officials said. Five hundred more soldiers will be ordered to the base in the coming weeks.
Number of prisoners: They will first build a prison on a section of the base, and then guard it, Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Sunday. Fewer than 100 prisoners are expected at Guantanamo within a week; base officials have been told to prepare for as many as 2,000 in the coming months, Davis said.
The security is being planned with an eye toward the riot by Al-Qaida prisoners at Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, that left hundreds dead, including CIA officer Johnny "Mike" Spann.
"We are cognizant of the incident that took place in Mazar-e-Sharif," Davis said. "Many of these people have demonstrated their determination to kill others, kill themselves or escape."
Meanwhile, investigators have accounted for more than $325,000 spent on the Sept. 11 attacks, concluding that money was transferred to the hijacking teams from suspected terrorist operatives in the United Arab Emirates and a handful of other countries.
Authorities who are winding down their investigation have traced the money through credit card receipts, ATM withdrawals and other transactions connected to the 19 hijackers and believe the rest of the expenditures for the $500,000 operation were made in cash.
The findings by investigators at the Treasury Department, Justice Department, FBI and other federal agencies mark the end of the first phase of the government's exhaustive effort to chronicle the financial backing for the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. Although the broad outlines of the money trail were clear within weeks of the attacks, investigators say it has taken months of painstaking analysis and interviews to flesh out the details.
Authorities now have turned their attention to the global web of individuals and organizations, especially overseas, suspected of providing money and financial cover for bin Laden's Al-Qaida network and other alleged terrorists, whether or not they are connected to the Sept. 11 plot.
Warning ignored? As investigations into the Sept. 11 attacks continue, a jailed Seminole County, Fla., man who had served time in a British prison with three suspected associates of bin Laden's claims the FBI ignored his warnings in August that terrorist attacks on New York City would occur "very soon."
Walid Arkeh contends that, during a late-summer interview that federal officials acknowledge took place, FBI agents scoffed at his promise to exchange more details for freedom, asylum and protection.
He said the FBI agents didn't appear impressed with his information, and one stood with his hand in his pocket impatiently asking, "Is that all you have? That's old news."
But since Sept. 11, the 35-year-old Jordanian national from Altamonte Springs, Fla., has been grilled by federal agents and whisked to an undisclosed location by state corrections officials. His name and photo -- all traces of his presence in the system -- have been removed from the Department of Corrections Web site.
"I told them something big was going to happen in New York City," Arkeh said in a recent interview with the Orlando Sentinel.
Arkeh said he learned of plots by terrorists led by bin Laden from the trio of fellow inmates while they served time together in a British prison from September 2000 to July 2001.
"I told them there were these three men who were cronies of bin Laden's. I gave them some details but not everything. I thought they would be back in a few days," he said during a November interview.
But the federal agents didn't return until Sept. 11 -- hours after the World Trade Center towers fell and the Pentagon was split open.
The FBI won't provide details of conversations they had with Arkeh either before or after the tragedies, but agents deny he told them anything significant.
"We do not put any credibility into what he said," explained Bill Hajesky, the FBI's Orlando supervisor of special agents. "And when we checked into his background, we found he wasn't credible."
Steve Cole, the Tampa-based spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida, and Tom Turner, the managing assistant U.S. Attorney in Orlando, said they think Arkeh's information about the September attacks in New York was neither fabricated nor a coincidence.