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Expert: U.S. Knew al-Qaida Might Attack

Expert: U.S. Knew al-Qaida Might Attack

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WASHINGTON - The United States and the international community sat by for a decade as Afghanistan became "a terrorist Disneyland" where attackers were trained and assaults were planned, a terrorism expert testified Wednesday.

Rohan Gunaratna, head of terrorism research at the Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore, told an independent terrorism investigative commission here that U.S. leaders had to know their homeland would eventually be targeted.

"You knew the intention of al-Qaida was to kill American people where they could be found, but still you did not act, and you paid a very heavy price for it," said Gunaratna, the lead-off witness at a full-day hearing on terrorism, al-Qaida and the Muslim world.

The 10-member National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States has held previous hearings focusing on the events of Sept. 11, including how hijackers took control of four airplanes and why U.S. air defenses did not react more quickly.

The commission's chairman, Thomas H. Kean, said the commission must also take a broader look at the rise of terrorist groups.

"To defeat and destroy our enemy, we must understand more than the crimes it already committed," said Kean, a former governor of New Jersey. "We must understand what drives and motivates it, the source of its power, the resources at its command, its internal strengths and weaknesses."

The White House and Congress formed the commission last year following a congressional inquiry into intelligence failures. The panel has a May, 2004 deadline to issue a report on topics including aviation security, immigration and diplomacy.

Kean and the panel's vice chairman, former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton, said Tuesday that not all agencies of government have been cooperating fully, which could hamper the independent inquiry.

"The task in front of us is monumental, and time is slipping by," Kean said. "Every day lost complicates our work."

Kean and Hamilton singled out government departments including Defense and Justice that they said were not cooperating fully. They said they took the unusual step because the administration's level of cooperation during the next few weeks will determine whether the panel can meet write a thorough report by its deadline.

Kean said Wednesday, however, that he wasn't yet ready to accuse the administration of trying to thwart the probe.

"Ask me about this two months later. I may change my mind, but I don't think it's intentional foot-dragging," he said on NBC's "Today" program.

Kean said Bush and his aides have tried to help, but "it is also clear that the administration underestimated the scale of the commission's work." The commission has requested 26 briefings and made 44 requests for documents, which cover millions of pages, from 16 government agencies.

In their interim report, Kean and Hamilton said the degree of cooperation has varied by office and agency:

_The commission is receiving access to "a wide range of sensitive documents" from Bush's office and from the National Security Council, but "conditions have been imposed, in some cases, with respect to our access to and usage of materials."

_The CIA assembled a team of analysts to review events leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, and their work has been invaluable. But the CIA has not responded as quickly to the commission's requests for internal documents on management and resources.

_Records requested from the Justice Department are overdue, and the department has yet to resolve how to help the commission review the case of Sept. 11 conspiracy suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, who is awaiting trial.

_Problems with the Defense Department "are becoming particularly serious." The commission has received no responses to requests related to national air defenses among other topics.

_Within the Homeland Security Department , elements of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service "have been slow in providing briefings, although there are recent signs of improvement."

The FBI , State Department and Transportation Department received generally positive reviews.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said Bush is committed to helping the commission. "We have already provided thousands of pages of documents, as well as numerous individuals for interviews, and we intend to continue to do so," she said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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