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There is a “very real potential” that

August 3, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ There is a ``very real potential″ that the al-Qaida terrorism network could again strike the United States, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Sunday.

``Al-Qaida is still bent on injuring the United States,″ he said. Ashcroft later said that he believes Osama bin Laden’s organization wants ``to strike us whenever and wherever they can.″

Ashcroft said a new audiotape purportedly from bin Laden’s top deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahri, is evidence of the continued threat.

The tape warns America that it will pay dearly if it harms detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and it urges Muslims to avenge the prisoners.

Ashcroft, who appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows, said he did not immediately know if the tape was authentic.

The attorney general said the Bush administration is doing everything it can to prevent fresh attacks.

``I believe that the potential for us to be hit again is a very real potential,″ Ashcroft said. ``And the kinds of efforts that we’re making, the kinds of information we’re sharing with the American people, signal that we believe that there is such a potential, but that we minimize the potential whenever we’re alert.″

He pointed to last week’s alert from the Homeland Security Department to airlines and law enforcement agencies that al-Qaida may attempt suicide hijackings in the coming months.

Ashcroft also said U.S. officials have worked hard to track suspected terrorists and foil their plans.

``I believe we’ve disrupted dozens and dozens and dozens, over 100 terrorist-related attacks around the world since 9/11,″ he said.

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