Powell: bin Laden still alive, al-Qaida still a threat
September 10, 2004
WASHINGTON – Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday he believes Osama bin Laden is still alive – although he has no proof – and thinks his al-Qaida terror group remains a threat.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Powell said al-Qaida still has the capacity to rebuild itself and thus remains a threat, although he asserted it has been decimated by the detentions and killings of key leaders.
Of bin Laden – whose No. 2 deputy released a new videotape Thursday threatening the United States – Powell said: “We believe he is still alive. I can’t prove that. But he clearly is hiding as best he can. He is on the run. He is not popping up on television and he is not showing himself in a way that he could be captured.”
Shortly after Powell spoke, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a speech in Washington that bin Laden, “if he’s alive, is spending a whale of a lot of time trying to not get caught.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Powell also spoke of his own future – holding out more chance than he has previously that he might remain as secretary of state if President Bush wins a second term. Powell has deflected past questions about his future by saying he serves at “the pleasure of the president” – a phrase he repeated Friday.
But Bush, in a little noticed comment recently in Pennsylvania, said he would be happy to have Powell remain beyond Jan. 20 if he is re-elected.
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Asked about the comment Friday, Powell smiled and said: “Time will tell. We will see.”
Until now, the main reason Powell has been seen as a one-term secretary of state is that he often does not see eye to eye on key issues with Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld, among others.
Asked Friday about differences with colleagues, Powell said: “I have been given many labels in the course of my career and over the past four years. The only label that really sticks and is important is that I serve this nation and I serve the President.”
On the eve of the Sept. 11 anniversary, Powell said the absence of a follow-up attack on U.S. soil since then is a positive sign.
“The last three years have been an indication that we are safer,” Powell said. “But we are still in a threatening environment.”
Bin Laden is believed to have been hiding out in untamed lands along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border since the Sept. 11 attacks. If bin Laden were to be killed or captured, Powell said he believes “it would be a very, very serious blow against al-Qaida.”
The tape released Thursday by bin Laden deputy Ayman Al-Zawahri marks the third year in a row that al-Qaida has released a Sept. 11 anniversary videotape. However, in previous years, the message has come from bin Laden.