March 17th, 2010
08:48 PM ET

U.S. believes al Qaeda still deadly but 'on the run'

An intercepted message indicates some members of al Qaeda are looking to the group's founder for more visible leadership, a U.S. intelligence official told CNN Wednesday after CIA director Leon Panetta talked about the message in a newspaper interview.

Osama bin Laden is "rarely seen, rarely heard," the official said, and that is "troubling" to those who see him as their leader.

"There are strong indications that some al Qaeda terrorists would like Bin Laden to take take a higher profile," the official said, adding that Panetta's comments in the Washington Post were referring to the al Qaeda core that is operating along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. Al Qaeda "is on the run but still coming after us," the official said.

CNN was unable to corroborate the existence of the intercepted message or its contents outside the U.S. intelligence community, and neither the official nor Panetta provided any further information about it or its contents.

In the Post article, Panetta credited the CIA's aggressive campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region for the terror group's apparent disarray. "Those operations are seriously disrupting al Qaeda," he told the paper.

"It's pretty clear from all the intelligence we are getting that they are having a very difficult time putting together any kind of command and control, that they are scrambling. And that we really do have them on the run."

Six weeks ago, Panetta told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the thought "that al Qaeda and its terrorist allies and affiliates could very well attack the United States in our homeland" keeps him up at night.

"Having said that, the biggest threat I see is not so much that we face another attack similar to 9/11," he told the senators. "I think the greatest threat is that al Qaeda is adapting their methods in ways that oftentimes make it difficult to detect."

In his testimony, Panetta said that operations targeting al Qaeda and its allies were forcing them to move "to other safe havens and regional nodes, in places like Yemen and Somalia, the Magreb and others."

Bin Laden's name surfaced several times recently, including from Attorney General Eric Holder, who said Tuesday that the terrorist leader would never be captured alive.

"The chances he'll be captured alive are infinitesimal. He'll be killed by our people, or his own people so he's not captured by us," Holder told the subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that oversees the Justice Department budget.

Last week, Belgian terror suspect Malika el Aroud said during testimony in her trial that her husband –Moez Garsallaoui, who is wanted on terror charges - met bin Laden in the summer of 2008.

There have been no confirmed sightings of bin Laden since he escaped from Tora Bora in Afghanistan in December 2001. While the working assumption of Western intelligence agencies is that he is somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, it is thought few al Qaeda members know his location.

Last December, in an interview with ABC, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said "it's been years" since there was good intelligence on where bin Laden is located.

"Well, we don't know for a fact where Osama bin Laden is. If we did, we'd go get him," the secretary said.

Many audiotapes purportedly recorded by bin Laden have been released in that time, the most recent on January 24 in which the voice on the tape praises the attempt to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 en route to Michigan on December 25 and warns the United States of more attacks.

- From CNN National Security Producer Pam Benson

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Filed under: Al Qaeda • National security • World
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Chibuzo

    It is difficult for the U.S. A. alone to find out where Osama Bin Laden is. If he is captured, then it is just by misfortune as in the case of Saddam Hussein. Clearly, international assistance is needed to facilitate the capture of Bin Laden. The more, the easier. The other countries have to watch out for Al-Qaeda.

    March 18, 2010 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
  2. Jasvir Singh

    He is will protected by Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligent (ISI) so how would anyone find him. If US arrest or kills him then how Pakistan will get billions of dollars it bills US on simple cheap white paper. He is creation of Pakistan so Now a guest of Pakistan. US and allied forces virtually combed entier Pakistan and Afganistan and how come we can't find him. He might be living in President's palace in a suite where they cite the place is immune from search. He is a valuable tool and might be getting part of money Pakistan gets from USA.

    March 18, 2010 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
  3. Wayne C

    Seems to me the democrats are very tough on national security and are doing a lot more than the Republicans did in their 8 years. Dems should toot their own horn for a change instead of going about it so quietly.America is now actually winning against the terrorist .

    March 18, 2010 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
  4. Rob

    I understand the whole 'let's go out and get em' tactic but there comes a point when you may want to consider putting more focus on the homeland security and start fortifying your nation by developing better, more reliable and efficient security measures. This dumb war has gone on for way too long.

    March 18, 2010 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
  5. Biff

    They're "on the run"? That's what guerilla fighers do. They run, then they hit, then they run again.

    March 18, 2010 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  6. Bob Ramos

    AQ numbers around 50,000 according to best available reports. Something is wrong when many nations spent over nine years, billions of dollars, thousands of lives and all of that effort and yet AQ still survives. I do not have the answer but still believe we have to fight AQ in different ways.

    March 18, 2010 at 4:27 am | Report abuse |
  7. S Newhouse

    National security
    Purported message from American-born Muslim cleric calls for jihad against U.S.

    Ok, we know he knows how we feel, being he is a disgrace of an American.


    I"m one of the GOD-fearing gun toting, flag-waving people you were warned about. There many of us, so if you want to bring Jihad to the United States of America, bring it on. We will bury your sorry camel riding ass facing the wrong direction, not able to know if the sun rises, or sets.

    March 22, 2010 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
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