WASHINGTON/KABUL (REUTERS) — The United States claimed control of the Afghan skies on Tuesday, as the al Qaeda network that it is trying to destroy issued a defiant warning of more attacks like the ones that demolished the World Trade Center four weeks ago.
Both President Bush and al Qaeda pledged they were willing to fight as long it took to achieve their goals — in Bush’s case, bringing terrorists to justice, and in al Qaeda’s case, driving U.S. forces from Muslim lands and ending U.S. support for Israel.
“If it takes one day, one month, one year, or one decade, we’re patient enough,” Bush told reporters who asked him about the campaign against al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who is blamed by the United States for the Sept. 11 attacks by suicide aircraft hijackers in which almost 5,600 people were killed.
Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said three days of bombing Afghanistan had crippled the air defenses of the country’s ruling Taliban, who are sheltering bin Laden and al Qaeda.
“I believe Secretary Rumsfeld summed it up pretty well today when he made it clear that the skies were now free for U.S. planes to fly without being harassed in any way, and that the missions have been successful,” Bush said.
A spokesman for al Qaeda, Sulaiman Bu Ghaith, said in a message carried on Qatar’s al-Jazeera satellite television that the group believed in “terrorism against oppressors.”
“THE STORM … WILL NOT STOP”
“Americans should know … The storm of the (hijacked) planes will not stop,” he said. “Let America know that this battle will not leave its land until it exits our land, and until they stop supporting the Jews and lift the unjust sanctions on Iraq,” Bu Ghaith said.
“In the (Muslim) nation there are thousands of youths who are as keen on death as Americans are keen on life.”
Americans took precautions on Tuesday to counter the threat of germ warfare, their fears stoked by the death of one man in Florida from anthrax and a positive test for the disease returned by another man.
Several hundred people in Florida’s coastal city of Boca Raton who may have come in contact with the dead man were tested for contamination. An FBI spokeswoman said it was too early to tell if the anthrax bacteria had been released intentionally.
Bush, referring to the threat of further terrorist acts, urged Americans to continue their normal lives. “The American people should know that our government is doing everything we can to make our country as safe as possible.”
But in Washington, a subway passenger confronted by police for fare-dodging sparked a bio-terror scare when he spilled a container of liquid on a platform. Later tests showed it was carpet cleaner.
An Internal Revenue Service office in Covington, Ky., was evacuated for several hours after a mail room staffer found an envelope thought to contain a white powder. It turned out to contain only a letter.
POWELL TO VISIT INDIA, PAKISTAN
As anger against the U.S.-led attack on Afghanistan simmered in some Muslim territories such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Iraq and the Gaza Strip, British Prime Minister Tony Blair left for Oman on a Middle East trip aimed at shoring up Arab support for the campaign against al Qaeda.
Secretary of State Colin Powell will start a similar trip to Pakistan, India and China some time after Friday, a State Department spokesman said. Blair went to Pakistan and India last week.
Leaders of rival Palestinian factions urged supporters to restore calm after the air strikes triggered the Palestinians’ deadliest internal violence in years.
Trying to put a lid on the crisis, officials kept all schools and universities closed in the Gaza Strip, where two people were killed on Monday in clashes between police and bin Laden supporters.
Islamic nations meeting in Qatar Wednesday will voice concern that the raids on Afghanistan could extend to other Muslim countries, senior delegates to the gathering of the 56-member Organization of Islamic Conference said.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri predicted his country could be next. “We think that the United States may use this opportunity to … take vengeance against the Iraqi people because Iraq is not ready to surrender its territory to become a colony for the United States, Britain and Israel,” Sabri said.
U.S. officials at the United Nations said Washington had delivered a stern warning to President Saddam Hussein that he would pay a heavy price if Iraq took advantage of the current crisis, warning him not to make any moves against Iraqi Kurds or the country’s neighbors.
Bush reiterated the campaign against Afghanistan was just the first stage of a long campaign against global terrorism.
“Anybody who feeds al Qaeda, who houses al Qaeda, who encourages al Qaeda, any other terrorist organization that is affiliated with al Qaeda is just as guilty as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
BUSH ANGRY AT CONGRESSIONAL LEAKS
The president rebuked members of Congress for leaking sensitive information ahead of the first raids on Afghanistan. “This can’t stand,” he said. “It’s not in our nation’s interest. We’re now in extraordinary times.”
Aides said Bush was angered by leaks last week after CIA officials briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee and reportedly advised committee members about the high probability of more attacks against American targets.
At a Pentagon briefing, officials for the first time showed pictures of a destroyed airfield, missile site and training camp used by al Qaeda.
“We have struck several terrorist training camps. We have damaged most of the airfields, I believe all but one, as well as their anti-aircraft and launchers,” Rumsfeld said.
He expressed regret for the deaths of four Afghans who worked for a U.N.-funded demining group, but said he did not know if they were killed by U.S. weapons and added that some civilian casualties were inevitable.
He said the damage inflicted so far had created “conditions necessary to conduct a sustained campaign to root out terrorists.”
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who had talks in Washington with Bush on Tuesday, said afterward it was “very important to maintain the strong degree of cohesion that we see at this point in time within the anti-terror alliance that has formed around the world.”
Blair told the Afghan people the West would not abandon them after the war on the Taliban had been completed.
In a broadcast for the Pashto language service of the BBC’s World Service, Blair conceded the West had made past mistakes on Afghanistan and had simply “walked away” from its people.
“This time around we must not repeat that mistake,” he said.
The Taliban, meanwhile, accused a French reporter, arrested while disguised in Muslim women’s dress, of spying and vowed to try him. Michel Peyrard, 44, working for Paris Match, had a satellite telephone, tape recorder and “other spying instruments” when he was arrested near Jalalabad, a Taliban spokesman said.