The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times go with President Bush’s statement to the Taliban that “full warning has been given and time is running out” for the clerics to hand over Osama Bin Laden. Both papers say his comments indicate that the necessary diplomatic and military preparations for attacks on Afghanistan are basically complete. The Washington Post lead names the Bin Laden associate believed to be a key planner of the Sept. 11 attacks: Mohammed Atef. A former Egyptian police officer, Atef is also implicated in the 1998 embassy bombings and may have encouraged attacks on U.S. forces in Somalia in 1993.
The papers read Bush’s comments, along with the return of the defense secretary from his coalition-building trip, continued troop build-up in Uzbekistan, and the beginning of military exercises in Egypt (LAT) as signs that a U.S. attack is imminent. The NYT account notes that the calendar is becoming a factor—clear weather is expected in the region this week, and officials want to act before winter and the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. The NYT also says that Rumsfeld’s strategy this week suggests that an attack will be an “all-American” action, as opposed to that of a military alliance. The papers also note that a British journalist, who was arrested for sneaking into the country disguised in the burqa worn by Afghan women, would be released, according to the Taliban.
“Senior government sources” tell the WP that the man Tony Blair referred to this week as a close Bin Laden associate who was instrumental in planning the Sept. 11 attacks was Mohammed Atef. “Communications evidence” ties Atef to the attacks, but officials are continuing their scrutiny of Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, Atef’s superior in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement. Biographical details on Atef are scant: He supervises the training of al-Qaida recruits at camps in Afghanistan, he fought the Soviets in the ‘80s, and one of his daughters is married to one of Bin Laden’s sons. The story goes on to discuss the key role of other Egyptian militants in Bin Laden’s organization, particularly the family and followers of Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric currently serving a life sentence for planning a bombing campaign in New York.
A NYT fronter has the latest from the Taliban, including statements that imprisoned foreign aid workers might be released without trial if the U.S. does not attack. It’s a significant reversal: Days ago, the presiding judge said the workers’ fates would be unaffected by the political circumstances. The Taliban has also appointed a new army chief, and commanders say that they expect Kabul will fall quickly in the face of a U.S. attack, but that provinces in northwest and southeast Afghanistan should provide strong resistance. Taliban officials also announced that they had fired at another (most likely unmanned) foreign aircraft over the capital.
The WP fronts a bomb attack in Saudi Arabia that killed at least one American and wounded a few other foreigners. Officials have not yet identified the victims or said whether the incident is related to the Sept. 11 attacks. The NYT, which stuffs the story, adds that none of the victims were in the military.
The WP and the NYT both run “hindsight” pieces on the terror attacks. The WP focuses on soul-searching at the INS—the organization is trying to come to grips with tracking large numbers of international students and visitors who remain in the country after their visas expire, as well as the Herculean task of patrolling the U.S.-Canadian border. The NYT looks at the intelligence agencies, examining a “secret directive” (read: leaked memo) issued by the Central Intelligence Director George Tenet on Sept. 16 warning that excessive bureaucracy was making the agencies’ fight against terrorism even harder than it already is.
Reports of the death of Paul O’Neill’s career have been greatly exaggerated, according to the WP front. Though the Treasury secretary’s public image has been tarnished, the story goes, he’s still got clout on the inside: He gets a half-hour of face time with the president each week—more than Clinton’s appointees got—and has a close friendship and a weekly breakfast with Alan Greenspan. A more dubious sign of his staying power: During a West Coast tour last month, one Silicon Valley executive was so impressed that he wrote the president, urging him not to fire O’Neill. Many of the secretary’s image problems, says the WP, stem from ill-timed or poorly phrased statements, which Dubya is apparently willing to overlook.