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NYPD eyes terror 'any given day'

NY Daily News | July 16, 2007
ALISON GENDAR

The NYPD's intelligence chief says Osama Bin Laden's henchmen have stepped up recruitment over the past six months - turning a desolate area of northern Pakistan into a training ground for a new generation of terrorists.

"They want to come here, and whatever their capabilities, they absolutely are focused on returning to New York City," NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen told the Daily News.

Cohen said he was well aware of the threat before a new report prepared for the White House became public last week.

The intel report - titled "Al Qaeda better positioned to strike the West" - details how the terror network has regrouped and recovered from losses it suffered after 9/11. Though the findings caused a stir in Washington, Cohen told The News: "None of this should surprise us."

"We assume on any give day that someone is planning to do something in New York City," Cohen said during an exclusive interview. "Our posture is based on that fundamental assumption."

The report, prepared by the intelligence community for a White House meeting last week, does not indicate a specific threat against the U.S. or New York in coming months, Cohen said.

"Nothing coming out in the past few days would alter what we do on a daily basis," he said.

But Al Qaeda's regrouping underscores the need to keep the city's defenses up.

Al Qaeda retrenched by infiltrating a section of northern Pakistan that its government proved unable to control, Cohen said.

The sanctuary enabled the once-crippled network to build new mobile training camps, set up safehouses, train the next generation of top- and mid-level leaders and build ties to local terror groups, Cohen said.

"The absence of military presence in that area provides some sort of sanctuary," he explained. "Unless the pressure is constant, they will adapt."

Osama Bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are believed to be in Pakistan orchestrating the rebuilding of the terror network, Cohen said.

International law enforcement agencies are telling the Police Department that increasing numbers of extremists have been crossing into Pakistan, Cohen said.

"That enables them to take greater risks," he said. "If they lose a valued operative, they are now confident that another one is coming down the pike."

Even Al Qaeda's communication network has improved. It can now release Internet propaganda videos in a matter of hours after a terror attack.

Three months ago, federal officials monitoring classified reports began whispering about a "buzz" that Al Qaeda was readying strikes against U.S. targets by the end of the year.

In April, a military source attributed the worries to a "gut feeling" by analysts. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff used the same term this week.

Cohen said the best response was a sustained vigilance - not sudden surges of activity.

"The operational tempo has intensified in the past six months," Cohen said. "We are aware of that increase, and are on it."

 

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