Al-Jazeera journalist held in Spain is accused of being member of al-Qa'ida

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The Independent Online

A journalist with the Arabic television station al-Jazeera was charged in Spain last night with being a member of the al-Qa'ida terror organisation.

The case threatens to become a severe embarrassment to the Qatar-based network, which this week broadcast audio and videotapes of Osama bin Laden, the elusive leader of al-Qa'ida.

A judge in Madrid ordered Tayseer Alouni, a Syrian-born Spanish citizen, to remain in jail without bail pending his trial on charges that he belongs to an al-Qa'ida cell in Spain. Mr Alouni, who interviewed Bin Laden soon after the 9/11 attacks, is also accused of providing money and information to the al-Qa'ida leadership. He denied the charges.

Meanwhile, American officials used the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to warn that there may be numbers of al-Qa'ida operatives still working inside the United States, raising money and communicating with their associates overseas to plot further assaults.

"We know that America is their primary target," Tom Ridge, the Homeland Security Secretary, said.

"They know that every single day we're doing everything we can to not only prevent their attacks but reduce our own vulnerability in this country to their carnage and their death and their destruction and their hate."

The State Department said in a statement: "We are seeing increasing indications that al-Qa'ida is preparing to strike US interests abroad."

Urgent analysis was under way in Washington of the most recent videotapes showing Bin Laden and his chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, walking in a country landscape.

It was the first such footage of the al-Qa'ida leader to be aired in two years and was shown on Wednesday by al-Jazeera. But there were emerging doubts about some of its authenticity. The CIA said that while it was certain the audio portions featured the voice of al-Zawahri, initial analysis of the voice purported to be that of Bin Laden was "inconclusive".

Just how many al-Qa'ida members are working inside the US remains unclear. Officials tentatively put the number at several dozen. Meanwhile, investigators with the Joint Terrorism Task Force are known to be pursuing leads in as many as 40 states across the country.

Washington is also wary that terrorists may try to hijack aircraft once again, but this time in Canada or Mexico with the intent to fly them across the borders to hit targets on American soil. Officials also believe that operatives are trying to cross from both countries into the United States.

While US officials are confident that American action has constrained many of al-Qa'ida's traditional means of raising cash, they are warning that the organisation may have turned to multiple new methods. These could include bootlegging cigarettes, counterfeiting CDs and DVDs and drug trafficking.