Al QAEDA CHIEFS ARE SEEN TO REGAIN POWER

By MARK MAZZETTI and DAVID ROHDE THE NEW YORK TIMES
WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 —
….Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.

(However)…The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan….American officials say that the new intelligence is focused on Al Qaeda and points to the prospect that the terrorist network is gaining in strength despite more than five years of a sustained American-led campaign to weaken it.

…. recent intelligence describes the organization’s hierarchy as intact and strengthening. “The chain of command has been re-established,” said one American government official, who said that the Qaeda “leadership command and control is robust.”

Officials said that both American and foreign intelligence services had collected evidence leading them to conclude that at least one of the camps in Pakistan might be training operatives capable of striking Western targets. A particular concern is that the camps are frequented by British citizens of Pakistani descent who travel to Pakistan on British passports.

In the past, statements issued by Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri referred to events that were sometimes several weeks old, one official said, suggesting that the men had difficulty creating a secure means of distributing the tapes. Now, the statements are more current, at times referring to events that occurred days earlier.

American intelligence and counterterrorism officials said that most of the men receiving training in Pakistan had been carrying out attacks inside Afghanistan, but that Al Qaeda had also strengthened its ties to groups in Iraq that had sworn allegiance to Mr. bin Laden. They said dozens of seasoned fighters were moving between Pakistan and Iraq, apparently engaging in an “exchange of best practices” for attacking American forces.

Officials said that over the past year, Al Qaeda had also shown an increased international capability, citing as an example its alliance with the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, an Algerian-based group that has carried out a series of attacks in recent months. Last fall, the Algerian group renamed itself Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb. Officials in Washington say they believe that the group is linked to a recent string of sophisticated car bombings and other attacks in Algeria, including a December attack on a bus carrying Halliburton contractors.

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