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Al Qaeda Scoffs At U.S. Capture Claim

A militant Islamic Web site that carries news about al Qaeda has dismissed as lies a report that a senior member of the terror group is in United States custody.

And another statement said to be from al Qaeda threatened more attacks in New York and Washington unless America stops supporting Israel and converts to Islam, an Arab TV reporter who received the document said Saturday.

Yosri Fouda, correspondent for the satellite station Al-Jazeera, told The Associated Press he received the unsigned, six-page document on Wednesday, a day after the TV station broadcast an audiotape purportedly made by Osama bin Laden.

Fouda, who is known for good contacts within al-Qaida, wouldn't say how he received the statement. But he insisted he was certain it came from the terrorist movement's leadership.

U.S. officials in Washington said Friday that one of the leaders of al Qaeda had been detained in a foreign country and handed over to U.S. authorities.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to identify the detainee, but said he was not al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, his chief deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, bin Laden's son Saad, or the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

CBS News consultant Raymond Tanter says, "The (reported) capture is important in terms of anticipating the next round of terror attacks."

But al Qaeda was apparently having none of it. "It is evident that this news is lies multiplied by lies. It is just an apparent American attempt to lessen the intensity of threats issued by Sheik Osama bin Laden in his latest audio statement," the Web site said, referring to the bin Laden tape broadcast by an Arabic satellite channel on Tuesday.

In the tape, bin Laden warned of further attacks on Western countries and urged Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany and Australia to distance themselves from the U.S.-led war on terror.

The Web site, which has a history of carrying information about al Qaeda, said the bin Laden tape "evoked horror and fear among Americans."

It belittled the U.S. officials' refusal to name the detainee: "Maybe they fear to announce a certain name, and al Qaeda would issue a denial so theri (the U.S.) situation would become worse."

The section dealing with the report was posted on the site Saturday under the heading: "America claims it arrested a senior leader in al Qaeda organization"

This year, U.S. officials have taken custody abroad of at least two senior al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.

On the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. and Pakistani authorities captured Ramzi Binalshibh, an alleged planner of the strikes on New York and Washington.

In March, CIA, FBI and Pakistani agents captured Abu Zubaydah, a senior al Qaeda terrorist operations planner with worldwide connections.

Meanwhile, the White House said it's not planning to raise the nation's alert status in the wake of an FBI warning that al Qaeda may want to mount a "spectacular" terrorist attack intended to damage the U.S. economy and inflict large-scale casualties, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante.

Despite the alarmist language in the FBI warning, the White House said it was not based on new threats but was simply a compilation of recent intelligence. Nevertheless, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Americans should remain vigilant.

"The American people are in many ways the first line of defense," said Rice. She said the latest warning contained no new information, calling it instead a "summary of intelligence as we know it."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan cited the lack of any intelligence about specific time, date, location or method of possible attack as the reason for keeping the nation's official terrorist threat level at code yellow, the middle of a five-level scale of risk developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"We continue to be on high levels of alert, we continue to take additional precautions," McClellan said.

Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House Office of Homeland Security, said that the new warning built on ones that the FBI and the White House have been making public since last month. "It is a compilation for law enforcement to understand what the intelligence community believes the threat to be," Johndroe said.

Still, the White House approved the strong language in the warning, McClellan said.

"Sources suggest al Qaeda may favor spectacular attacks that meet several criteria: High symbolic value, mass casualties, severe damage to the U.S. economy and maximum psychological trauma," says the alert, which was posted on a government Web site early Friday.

The highest priority targets remain within the aviation, petroleum and nuclear sectors, as well as significant national landmarks, the warning says.

The FBI terrorism warning also said that because of its weakened state, al Qaeda may turn its focus to more conventional attacks on less prominent targets.

"Target vulnerability and likelihood of success may be as important to a weakened al-Qaida as the target's prominence," according to the FBI warning.

"Thus, al Qaeda's next attack may rely on conventional explosives and low-technology platforms such as truck bombs, commercial or private aircraft, small watercraft, or explosives easily concealed and planted by terrorist operatives," it said.

Federal authorities previously have issued warnings for specific industries and national landmarks in general. But there is clearly worry that the danger of an attack is growing because of increased "chatter" picked up through intelligence channels, the continuing U.S. showdown with Iraq and the recently revealed audiotaped warnings believed to be from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The government's additional precautions include unspecified "additional steps to ramp up our protection and prevention measures" within federal agencies, he said. The FBI and other agencies also are communicating possible threats and assessments of risk to state and local law enforcement agencies and specific industries that could be targeted.

In recent weeks, the FBI has issued warnings about possible attacks on U.S. railroads and on the energy industry, as well as a more general warning about heightened risk during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started Wednesday and ends Dec. 5.

"We're especially sensitive to timeframes which might be thought by the enemy to be a time when they might want to make a statement," Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

On Wednesday, the FBI told authorities in Houston, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington to be aware of threats against hospitals. Even though that threat was assigned low credibility by senior law enforcement officials, the FBI is preferring to err on the side of caution in terms of giving out information, officials said.

The idea is to increase vigilance among local police and people working in industries that are potential targets.

Last week, the State Department warned that Thursday's execution of Pakistani Aimal Khan Kasi in Virginia could lead to reprisals against Americans. Two days after his November 1997 conviction, assailants shot and killed four American oil company workers in Karachi, Pakistan. Kasi was executed for killing two CIA employees in a 1993 shooting outside the agency's headquarters.

The recent nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia, the assault on Marines in Kuwait and the attack on a French oil tanker near Yemen — as well as the U.S. strike on a car carrying suspected terrorists, also in Yemen — are described by several law enforcement officials as actions that point to an increased threat.

"If there was any doubt in anybody's mind that al Qaeda remains a dangerous threat to America or the world, I suspect it was dispelled with the string of attacks," Tom Ridge, director of the White House homeland security office, said Thursday.

It is up to Ridge and Ashcroft to decide whether a change in threat level is warranted. Ashcroft and Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson are among a few Justice Department officials who see the daily raw intelligence on terrorism gathered by the FBI, CIA and other intelligence agencies.

The threat level was elevated from yellow to orange for two weeks in September to coincide with the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. It has remained at yellow since then, but the possibility of U.S. military action against Iraq has lawmakers and the Bush administration on guard.

Ridge and FBI Director Robert Mueller say the nation is far better prepared to detect and stop a terrorist attack than it was prior to Sept. 11, 2001. They say the intelligence sharing among agencies is vastly improved, as well as information about airplane passengers, people who enter through U.S. border crossings and students who lose their status and remain in this country.

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