US still trying to hunt down accused Saudi terrorist

Thursday, May 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ He's been giving the last remaining superpower fits for almost a decade. Three years ago, the United States fired more than 70 sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles at his hideaway in Afghanistan. He survived.

The Bush administration is conducting a policy review to find a way to capture Osama bin Laden, the elusive Saudi exile who has declared all U.S. citizens legitimate targets of his followers.

The State Department is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to bin Laden's capture.

While hailing the convictions this week of four of bin Laden's cohorts in New York, U.S. officials and private analysts acknowledge that a long and difficult road lies ahead before victory can be proclaimed.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Wednesday the United States remains ``committed to seeing justice done.''

``Mr. bin Laden should be delivered to a country where he can be brought to justice,'' Reeker said. He said strict U.N. sanctions against the Islamic Taliban regime, which controls Afghanistan and considers bin Laden a persecuted holy warrior, demonstrates the global opposition to sheltering him.

U.S. officials acknowledged that Pakistan, a Cold War ally and Afghanistan's eastern neighbor, has been an obstacle to fulfilling U.S. policy goals, to capture bin Laden. They said Pakistan continues to supply weapons to the Taliban in defiance of a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of counterterrorism operations for the CIA, called the convictions in a New York court a modest victory but said there are ``hundreds and hundreds more like them who will take their place.''

On Tuesday, a Manhattan federal court jury convicted the four allies of bin Laden for their roles in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 that killed 224 people.

Yet as for bin Laden, Cannistraro said, ``We don't have him on the run. He's still able to do about one major operation a year.''

A U.S. official who follows terrorism said the convictions marked a breakthrough but added the threat has not abated.

Hours after the convictions were announced, the State Department urged overseas Americans to maintain high vigilance and to increase their security awareness.

The statement was a reaffirmation of a warning issued three weeks ago, after the trial began.

The CIA would not comment on the verdict but said testimony on bin Laden last February by CIA Director George Tenet remains valid.

At the time, Tenet said bin Laden had declared all U.S. citizens legitimate targets of attack and demonstrated a capability to plan ``multiple attacks with little or no warning.''

Nevertheless, the Taliban vowed Wednesday never to hand over bin Laden.

``He is a great holy warrior of Islam and a great benefactor of the Afghan people,'' said Abdul Anan Himat, a senior official at the Taliban information ministry.