Terrorists said to seek entry to U.S. via Mexico

April 7, 2003
By Bill Gertz

A group of al Qaeda terrorists is attempting to infiltrate the United States from Mexico to conduct attacks in the country, The Washington Times has learned.

At least 14 al Qaeda members are said to be in Mexico, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The al Qaeda members are working with Mexican organized crime groups, such as drug-trafficking organizations, in an attempt to enter the United States covertly, the officials said.

No other details about the al Qaeda plan or its targets in the United States were disclosed.

The intelligence on the al Qaeda infiltration was circulated to U.S. officials within the past two weeks and was among numerous reports of terrorist threats.

Additionally, intelligence officials said captured al Qaeda operations chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed recently told U.S. officials that al Qaeda was planning to carry out a firebombing attack on Washington's Metrorail.

Mohammed said a firebombing was planned for a stretch of the subway between Capitol Hill and the White House.

Metrorail operates three lines in the area, the Orange, Blue and Red lines.

One official discounted the threat disclosed by Mohammed, saying a similar threat to conduct a subway bombing in another country had been made before Mohammed told his interrogators about the Metrorail threat.

Mohammed was arrested in Pakistan in early March, and he is one of the highest-ranking al Qaeda leaders captured in the war against terror. He is in U.S. custody at an undisclosed location.

The al Qaeda infiltration from Mexico and bombing threat against the Washington subway followed earlier intelligence reports that Iraqi intelligence agents were seeking to conduct terrorist attacks in the United States, including a plot to conduct an attack on President Bush's ranch at Crawford, Texas, the officials said.

The warning about Iraqi intelligence agents also was received as the Bush administration began a worldwide effort to have such agents expelled from foreign capitals.

The warnings about the al Qaeda and Iraqi threats come as the United States remains on heightened alert for a terrorist attack after military operations began against Iraq. The national terrorism alert level has been at Orange, or heightened.

"There is a serious concern that terrorists will try to conduct an attack in the United States," said one intelligence official. "I'm surprised they have not struck already."

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said he had no information on the al Qaeda members who are attempting to enter the country.

Senior U.S. government officials told the New York Times that anticipated terrorist threats against the United States in the days after the start of the Iraq war have not materialized so far.

Earlier intelligence reports said that al Qaeda was seeking to recruit radical Islamists in Saudi Arabia and Yemen to conduct terror attacks against oil fields in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The intelligence prompted heightened security measures in all three countries. So far, no attacks have taken place.

Also, earlier intelligence indicated that terrorists had planned to conduct an attack against Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The reports said terrorists had planned to hijack an airliner and fly it into a U.S. nuclear submarine based at the harbor that was bombed by the Japanese in a 1941 sneak attack.

In February, the CIA concluded in an analysis that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is highly likely to use a "third party" terrorist group to conduct a proxy attack on the United States, U.S. officials said.

The agency estimated there is better than an 85 percent chance that Saddam would use proxy terrorists to strike the United States, and that the likelihood would increase after any U.S. military action were to begin.

Also last month, intelligence officials disclosed that terrorists had targeted the nation's largest nuclear-power plant near Phoenix, and that federal agents were looking for Iraqi "sleeper cells" in the country.

The threat to the Palo Verde nuclear plant west of Phoenix prompted the deployment of National Guard troops around the facility.

U.S. Border Patrol officials said a diary written in Arabic was found last month in a backpack discovered on a southern Arizona trail frequently used by illegal aliens. The diary, according to the officials, contained names and telephone numbers of at least two persons in Canada and Iran.