The Washington Postand New York Timeslead with word that the deadline for al-Qaida troops to surrender passed without anybody surrendering, so U.S. planes have begun bombing again. USA Todayand the Los Angeles Timeslead with the indictment of Zacarias Moussaoui on six counts of conspiracy. The charges are the first in the U.S. directly connected to the Sept. 11 attacks. The papers say that Moussaoui, who aroused suspicion at a flight school in Minnesota a few weeks before the attacks and was thus arrested on immigration violations, was supposed to be the 20th highjacker. The Wall Street Journaltops its worldwide newsbox with word that the United States is preparing to chase al-Qaida leaders to Somalia. But the paper says, “an intelligence review has concluded that the al-Qaida presence in Somalia is small and could be rooted out with limited operations by U.S. forces or allies.”
“Moussaoui is charged with undergoing the same training, receiving the same funding, and pledging the same commitment to kill Americans as the hijackers,” announced Attorney General Ashcroft. The indictment also named the 19 hijackers, as well as top al-Qaida officials, as co-conspirators. The Bush administration has decided, at least for now, that Moussaoui will be prosecuted in federal court and will not face a military tribunal. The WSJ calls that move a “partial retreat.” Four of the six counts against Moussaoui carry a possible death sentence.
The NYT reports, in the 21st graph, that some American commandos aren’t just guiding in airstrikes around Tora Bora, they “appeared” to have actually joined the fighting.
Opposition forces made major gains yesterday and said that only a small portion of land remains in al-Qaida hands. The LAT says that Pentagon “officials described the fighting as especially fierce and desperate, with al-Qaida apparently willing to take many casualties to defend its final stronghold.”
The NYT front and centers an excellent map of the fighting. There’s also a version of it online. (Due to unpleasant technical issues, Today’s Papers can’t link directly to the map. Scroll about halfway down to the “Multimedia” link on the right-hand column.)
The NYT says that the United States intercepted al-Qaida radio transmissions “talking about Mr. bin Laden’s location in the Tora Bora area.” The paper doesn’t give any more detail, but a report from ABC News says that Bin Laden was near Monday’s blast of the huge Daisy Cutter bomb, “which set off a series of panicked radio and satellite-phone calls, and creating a flood of new hard evidence on the whereabouts of bin Laden.”
Still, nobody really seems to know his whereabouts.
“Until today, I was sure he’s available here,” said one top anti-Taliban commander. “But now, you know, I don’t know exactly.”
The papers report that Pakistan has deployed thousands of soldiers along its border near Tora Bora in order to stop al-Qaida folks from sneaking away.
But Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld warned, “There’s just no way you can put a perfect cork in the bottle,” Rumsfeld said.
While Afghan cities are becoming more peaceful, the NYT’s Dexter Filkins ventured into the countryside. It doesn’t seem like he had a fun trip. “In the Taliban heartland between Herat and Kandahar, Taliban troops appear to be operating as if little has changed,” reports Filkins, who assuaged one angry Taliban by promising to let the soldier use his satellite phone. “Northern Alliance commanders say they dare not send their troops into such areas.”
The Post fronts one of its reporter’s tours of Kandahar, in which he found that the U.S. bombings were remarkably accurate and caused few civilian injuries. “We did not have many injured here,” said a doctor at city’s largest hospital.
The WSJ notes that Britain’s top military officer warned that the U.K. can’t hack leading a peacekeeping force in Afghanistan while simultaneously helping the United States wage war against other countries accused of harboring terrorists. Though the paper doesn’t quote him saying so, the Journal says that the officer “suggested that future actions in the war on terrorism might not draw British support.”
The WP fronts Pakistan’s announcement that two of its top nuclear scientists have admitted that they did a little thinking outside the box with Bin Laden—mere “academic” discussions, as the men put it—about his plans to create weapons of mass destruction. The men told authorities that Bin Laden claimed to have some sort of radioactive material, but that it wasn’t good enough to make into any kind of weapon.
The Post plays this as breaking news, but the NYT reported last week that “the two scientists met with Taliban and al-Qaida officials in Afghanistan to discuss nuclear issues.” That article dismissed the meeting because the “scientists were not weapons experts, American officials said.”
Meanwhile, last week’s Times article focused on two other Pakistani nuclear scientists, these ones weapons experts, whom the paper said the CIA wanted to question. Nu? Any update?
Grab your popcorn, the papers affirm what the WP reported yesterday: Today the White House is likely to release the tape of Bin Laden bragging about the WTC attacks.
Sign No. 254 that these are big news days: The WP, USAT, and LAT stuff the White House’s leak that the United States intends to announce its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The papers say that the decision is based on the fact that the administration plans to break ground on a missile defense facility in the next six months.
The WSJ reports that back in October, Canadian authorities e-mailed a warning to the CDC that anthrax could leak out of envelopes (and hence infect postal workers). But the guy at the CDC who received the heads-up never opened the e-mail. The CDC insists it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
The papers report that Dick Armey, the Republican’s House majority leader and number two man, is going to announce his retirement this week. Tom Delay, known as The Hammer, is angling to replace him.
The WSJ reports that those fabulously vibrant tuxes from the 1970s are back in vogue. The owner of one vintage-tux shop proudly held up a hot pink number and commented, “Someone probably got married in this gag-a-rama.” Apparently wearing one of these getups isn’t just hip and ironic, it’s patriotic. “To wear a retro tux, you’re going forward with your life in a fun, backward mode,” said one buyer. “Terrorists wanted to alter our fun. We shouldn’t let them.”