While hailing the convictions of four followers of Osama bin Laden, U.S. officials and private analysts acknowledged Wednesday that a long and difficult road lies ahead before victory can be proclaimed over the exiled Saudi terrorist chieftain.
Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA chief of counter terrorism operations called Tuesday’s convictions in a New York court a modest victory but said there are “hundreds and hundreds more like them who will take their place.”
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 the terrorism issue said the convictions were a breakthrough but added that the threat has not abated.
On Tuesday, a Manhattan federal court jury convicted the four allies of bin Laden for their role in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998.
Hours after the convictions were announced, the State Department urged overseas Americans to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take steps to increase their security awareness.
The statement was a reaffirmation of a warning issued three weeks ago after the trial got under way.
The Central Intelligence Agency declined comment on the verdict but said that February testimony by CIA Director George Tenet on bin Laden remains valid.
At the time, Tenet said bin Laden had declared all U.S. citizens legitimate targets of attack and had demonstrated a capability to plan “multiple attacks with little or no warning.”
The Bush administration is reviewing the policy for dealing with bin Laden that it inherited from the Clinton administration.
The ruling Taliban militia has drawn widespread international condemnation for its role in harboring bin Laden. The U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions against the Taliban twice over the past two years.
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Wednesday the goal of the resolutions is to induce the Taliban to deliver bin Laden “to a country where he can be brought to justice and tried for the crimes which he’s accused of.”
The Taliban vowed Wednesday that it would never 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 in Kabul.
The Afghan problem is one of the few issues on which the United States and Russia agree. Russia believes bin Laden is using Afghanistan as a base to foment Islamic fundamentalist uprisings in Chechnya as well as several of the former Soviet republics, including Uzbekistan.
U.S. and Russian officials have held a number of meetings on the issue, including one at the State Department last week. The State Department said the two sides agreed “to review specific steps to counter the threats from terrorism and narcotics production emanating from Afghan territory.”
The most dramatic U.S. attempt to do away with bin Laden occurred in August 1998 when former President Bill Clinton ordered cruise missile strikes against bin Laden’s suspected hideout. But the missiles landed wide of the mark.