WASHINGTON (AP) President Bush said last night “it may take a year or two” to track down Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network in Afghanistan, but asserted that after a five-day aerial bombardment, “we”ve got them on the run.”
At a prime-time news conference at the White House, Bush said he did not know whether bin Laden was dead or alive. “I want him brought to justice,” he said of the shadowy figure believed to be behind the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington that killed 5,000 people one month ago.
Also yesterday, the FBI issued a stark warning that it has received information there may be additional terrorist attacks inside the United States or abroad in the next several days.
The bureau said its information does not identify specific targets, but it has asked local police to be on the highest alert and for all Americans to be wary of suspicious activity.
“Certain information, while not specific as to target, gives the government the reason to believe that there may be additional terrorist attacks within the United States and against U.S. interests overseas over the next several days,” the FBI said in its warning.
The president said that the warning was the result of a “general threat” of possible future terrorist acts the government had received. “I hope it”s the last, but given the attitude of the evildoers it may not be,” he added.
At the same time, he sought to reassure Americans the government was doing all it could to make them safe. “If we receive specific intelligence that targets a specific building or city or facility I can assure you our government will do everything possible to protect the citizens,” he said.
He urged all Americans to report anything suspicious to law enforcement authorities.
Despite the aerial pounding, Bush held out a carrot to the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan harboring bin Laden. “You still have a second chance. Just bring him in and bring his leaders and lieutenants and other thugs and criminals with him.”
And yet the president looked ahead to a day when the Taliban would be pushed from power. He suggested the United Nations could help form a new government for Afghanistan after the U.S.-led military mission is completed.
Asked whether he envisioned expanding military action beyond Afghanistan to Iraq or Syria, Bush said that the United States would “bring to justice” nations that harbor terrorists. In particular, he called Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein an “evil man” and added, “we”re watching him very carefully.”
While the current focus is on Afghanistan, he said “we”re looking for al-Qaida cells around the world” and if the United States find any, it will pursue them.
Bush spoke at the first prime-time news conference of his presidency, but more importantly, one month to the day after terrorist attacks in New York and Washington murdered thousands, damaged the nation”s economy and shattered its complacency.
In the month since, the president has labored to construct a foundation for an international war on terrorism, moving to choke off the funding essential for terrorists to carry out their strikes, lining up support from other nations, creating a new Office of Homeland Security and beginning on Sunday unleashing the nation”s military.
The news conference capped a national day of remembrance. There were memorial services around the nation to remember the more than 5,000 people killed when suicide hijackers seized four commercial airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside.
At the news conference, Bush also said that Syria, a nation often linked with terrorist groups, had expressed a desire to help with the anti-terror coalition. “We”ll give them an opportunity to do so.” He did not give specifics on the type of assistance Syria offered, but said he takes it seriously.
“If you want to join the coalition against terror, we will welcome you,” Bush said.
Asked whether he was calling for sacrifice from Americans as part of the war against terrorism, Bush said, “I think there”s a certain sacrifice when you lose a piece of your soul.