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Powell singles out bin Laden

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged Thursday that Osama bin Laden is a leading suspect in Tuesday's terrorist attacks -- the furthest and most specific an administration official has gone on record in singling out the longtime U.S. adversary.

"We are looking at those terrorist organizations who have the kind of capacity that would have been necessary to conduct the kind of attack that we saw," Powell said.

Pressed soon after by reporters about whether he was referring to bin Laden, Powell said, "Yes."

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U.S. authorities suspect bin Laden, leader of the al Qaeda group, of involvement in a number successful attacks against U.S. interests, including the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the 2000 suicide-boat attack on the guided missile destroyer USS Cole in a Yemeni harbor.

Bin Laden is also suspected by U.S. authorities of either financing or masterminding several attacks that have recently been thwarted, including planned bombings in the United States and abroad that were set to be carried out on New Year's Eve 2000.

Bin Laden has been residing in Afghanistan since 1996 and is considered a "guest" by the war-ravaged country's Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime.

The Taliban have urged the United States not to attack, saying they are not responsible in any way for Tuesday's assault and that Afghanistan's populace has already suffered greatly through more than a decade of civil war.

Bin Laden, too, has denied responsibility through spokesmen, although he has expressed congratulations to the attackers -- many of whom have been pegged by investigators as Arabs and some of whom carried passports from Middle Eastern countries.

President Bush has been consulting with military and national security advisers regularly since Tuesday's events, but he refused to tip his hand Thursday when pressed by reporters, saying only that the United States planned to act.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, speaking at the Pentagon, hinted the United States was prepared to mount a campaign of massive proportion to take out terrorist organizations and the states that may be providing them aid and comfort.

Secretary of State Colin Powell
Secretary of State Colin Powell  

"The people who have done this horrible deed against us and plan other deeds better realize that the American people are aroused ... and we will mobilize our resources," he said.

"It will be a campaign, and not a single action. We're going to keep after these people and the people who support them until it stops."

Should the United States choose to launch an attack on any bin Laden holdings in Afghanistan, or on Taliban forces, Pakistan would likely play a vital role, perhaps by clearing its airspace for U.S. military air traffic.

Hours after Bush expressed concern about the extent of Pakistan's support for the United States, Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, issued a statement clarifying his nation's position.

"I wish to assure President Bush and the U.S. government of our unstinted cooperation in the fight against terrorism," the statement said. "Pakistan is committing all of its resources in an effort coordinated with the United States to locate and punish those involved in this horrific act."

• Federal Bureau of Investigation
• White House
• Central Intelligence Agency
• American Red Cross

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