Intelligence chiefs target bin Laden's henchmen

The Allied Response
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The Independent US

Western intelligence agencies regard the Saudi dissident, Osama bin Laden, as the chief suspect for Tuesday's attacks, the politician overseeing Germany's secret service said.

"The way it was carried out, the choice of targets, the military approach, the highly professional preparation and the presumably large financial resources ... [all] mean there are many points that indicate we should look for the perpetrators among those around Osama bin Laden," Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's chief of staff, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, told journalists.

He said Germany's intelligence agencies had consulted with services in Israel, France and Britain and they had agreed that Mr bin Laden was the most likely culprit, but they were not absolutely certain.

"We're still putting the mosaic together. It's still not clear where the perpetrators are from and who is behind them. We expect the United States to co-ordinate with its partners before it takes any steps," Mr Steinmeier said.

From the start, US officials suggested that Mr bin Laden's organisation was the prime suspect. Yesterday President Bush called Tuesday's attacks "acts of war."

Germany expected the Americans to launch strikes against whoever was found to be the culprit, Mr Steinmeier added. "We have no information yet that there will be any, but I expect that the United States will not leave these attacks unanswered," he predicted.

Any US response would have a "dramatic impact" on security in Europe and elsewhere, he said. "After yesterday's attacks it is clear that we are facing a new level of international terrorism."

Police have arrested several people at the German border since stepping up security in the wake of the attacks, the German Interior Minister, Otto Schily, disclosed. He said none of them were suspected of links to the attacks "at this time", but refused to give details.

Mr Schily said he was in contact with his European Union counterparts and they were discussing holding an emergency meeting of EU interior ministers to review security measures. "We don't know what the US reaction will be but the security situation in G7 and other countries would change dramatically," Mr Schily said.

Germany was in close contact with the United States on its possible response to the attacks, officials said. "We expect that before massively going after the people who did this, the United States will consult with its allies," Gunter Pleuger, Germany's deputy Foreign Minister, said.

Chancellor Schröder has called the attacks a "declaration of war" and pledged "unqualified solidarity" withPresident Bush.

Government officials in Berlin left it unclear whether that amounted to automatic German backing for any US retaliatory strikes. Germany did not participate in the Gulf War, citing its pacifist constitution, and every deployment of troops abroad has to be sanctioned by parliament. The recent dispatch of fewer than 500 troops to Macedonia was preceded by an agonised national debate, and the Chancellor had to be helped out by the opposition in the crucial parliamentary vote, because of defections from the governing coalition.

Mr bin Laden, 44, a Saudi-born multimillionaire who sees himself as waging a holy war, is blamed for bombing two US embassies in East Africa in 1998, which killed 224 people and injured 4,000. The US has also branded him the prime suspect in bombings that killed 24 American servicemen in the Saudi cities of Riyadh and Khobar in 1995 and 1996.

Helives in Afghanistan. The country's ruling Taliban said yesterday that it was premature to talk about extraditing him.

Mr bin Laden's half-brother was among those who condemned the attacks. "I would like to express my deepest feelings of sorrow. I am shocked by this criminal attack of terrorism which killed innocent people yesterday in the United States of America," Yeslam bin Laden said in a brief statement.

"All life is sacred and I condemn all killing and attacks against liberty and human values," added the businessman, who has lived in Geneva for 20 years and was granted Swiss citizenship in May. The statement did not specifically refer to his half-brother. Yeslam bin Laden, who spells his name Binladin, said his "thoughts and profound sympathy are with the victims, their families and the American people".

A newspaper in Pakistan said it had received a message from Osama bin Laden that he was not involved in the attacks.