NEW LONDON, Conn.(AP) â€” President Clinton today accused the terror network allegedly operated by Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden of plotting to harm Americans gathered for millennium celebrations.
``Last December, working with Jordan, we shut down a plan to place large bombs at locations where Americans might gather for New Year's Eve,'' Clinton said in commencement remarks to 184 cadets at the Coast Guard Academy.
``We learned the plot was linked to terrorist camps in Afghanistan and the organization created by Osama bin Laden, the man responsible for the 1998 bombings at our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which cost the lives of Americans and hundreds of Africans,'' Clinton said.
Shortly after the plan was uncovered, a Customs agent in Seattle discovered bombmaking materials being smuggled into the United States, Clinton said, ``the same material used by bin Laden in other places.''
It was the president's most extensive discussion of bin Laden's activities.
Bin Laden, a Saudi exile believed to be in Afghanistan, is among 17 people charged in a federal indictment with conspiracy to kill Americans in the embassy bombing cases. Six are in custody in the United States and three overseas.
In the alleged bomb smuggling, Ahmed Ressam, 32, was arrested Dec. 14 after driving his rented car off a ferry from Victoria, British Columbia at Port Angeles, Wash. Prosecutors allege Ressam was at the center of a plot, involving a handful of other Algerian nationals in New York and Canada, to bomb buildings or other targets in the United States.
Ressam has pleaded innocent to nine charges, including possessing and transporting explosives with the intent to cause damage or injury. His trial has been moved to Los Angeles because of intense media coverage and is scheduled to begin July 10.
Abdel Ghani Meskini, 31, has been held without bail since his December arrest as an alleged accomplice in Brooklyn, N.Y. Meskini has been charged with providing and concealing support for Ressam. Another alleged accomplice, Mokhtar Haouari, 31, remains in Montreal as the United States seeks to extradite him to be tried in New York.
Other arrests have been made in the case, and one man believed to have stayed with Ressam in a Vancouver, British Columbia motel in the weeks before the alleged smuggling attempt remains at large.
Clinton was making the point that the new Coast Guard graduates will face a range of threats to America's security, from terrorism to smuggling to the spread of disease.
``Today and for the forseeable tomorrows we and especially you will face a fateful struggle between forces of integration and harmony and the forces of disintegration and chaos,'' Clinton said.
``Technology can be a servant of either side, or, ironically, both,'' he said.
By tradition, the president speaks at graduation ceremonies for one of the four service academies each year. He last spoke to Coast Guard cadets in 1996.
After Clinton spoke, each cadet was presented with a bachelor of science degree and a commission as an ensign. Ensigns begin their a five-year service obligation with a tour of duty aboard a Coast Guard cutter.
Clinton cited the ``Love Bug'' computer virus as powerful proof of the new kinds of threats to American security in an increasingly smaller, faster and more computerized world, the White House says.
Clinton noted that the virus, which spread by electronic mail, disabled computers worldwide earlier this month and did millions of dollars in damage.