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Wolfowitz: Al Qaeda Is No Snake, But Like a Disease

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 10, 2002 -- The al Qaeda terrorist network isn't like a snake that you can kill by cutting off its head. Rather, it's like a disease that has infected a healthy body "and you've got to fight all of the various different sources of infection," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said during a July 9 television interview.

Appearing on host Greta van Susteren's "On the Record" show on the Fox channel, Wolfowitz said the United States and its allies have made a lot of progress during Operation Enduring Freedom. "But," he added, "if we let up the pressure, (al Qaeda) will come back and you see all kinds of signs that they continue to regroup and reorganize. We've got to keep them on the run."

Rooting out al Qaeda members isn't easy because no one knows who they are, how many there are or where the top officials are hiding, he said. Wolfowitz said al Qaeda may have hundreds of loosely affiliated members, but perhaps only dozens of really key people.

He noted the videotape captured last year in which al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden seems to take "pleasure" that 14 or 15 of his 19 Sept. 11 terrorist hijackers didn't know they were on a suicide mission -- the only ones who knew the real plan were the hijacker pilots.

However, the secretary said, "Until we've nearly eliminated their ability to (organize), eliminated their sanctuaries, you have to assume that if you get rid of some of the top people others will replace them," Wolfowitz said.

Killing or capturing bin Laden or Al-Zuban, his No. 2, or any other top al Qaeda members will not topple the organization, though it would be "a big pay off," he said. He referred to the capture of Abu Zubaydah, al Qaeda's No. 3, as a boon to the war on global terrorism.

"He has given us information that has led to some other people, including (Jose) Padilla, the American citizen who was arrested in Chicago," the deputy pointed out. He said every time a captured al Qaeda official or computer reveals information, it can lead to others and helps the battle against terrorism.

For example, he said, "We got a videotape out of an al Qaeda safe house in Afghanistan that revealed a plot under way in Singapore. The Singaporeans picked up the whole group, (who) led them to other people in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. It's chasing down a network and you get one node in the network and it leads you to other nodes."

The war against terrorism is against an enemy who hides and is, in many ways, invisible, Wolfowitz noted.

"Victory is going to be measured by what doesn't happen as opposed to what does happen. When Americans can go to malls and shopping centers and not have to worry about being hit by terrorists, and we don't think that on any moment there might be a suicidal airplane attack, then we'll know that we've dealt with it."

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