Everyone leads with reports from Tora Bora where the papers find signs that al-Qaida’s resistance is weakening ever more. However, the papers have trouble coming to neat conclusions on the day’s battle in Afghanistan because, as the Washington Postput it, “much of the information was simply contradictory—and impossible to verify.”
As best the WP can figure out, al-Qaida is acting like “a defending force in its final throes.” Anti-al-Qaida forces reported advances against the enemy; American bombs seemed to scatter al-Qaida; and radio transmissions revealed that the terrorist militia was putting up little resistance. The New York Times believes that because American bombs are now falling deeper in the mountains, al-Qaida forces must be retreating. The paper also reports that the first al-Qaida forces have been taken prisoner. The Los Angeles Timessays that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld described modest progress in the campaign yesterday. None of the papers thinks the United States is any closer to capturing Osama Bin Laden than it was the day before.
The al-Qaida leader’s voice has been picked up over the radio this week, U.S. officials told the papers, who credit the Washington Times for breaking this news. This means that he is, or at least was, in the Tora Bora area. The WP piece on Bin Laden’s radio transmission also includes some senior military officials’ speculation on the whereabouts of Taliban leader Mullah Omar: lying dead somewhere, killed by U.S. airstrikes.
The Marines are building a prison for 300 al-Qaida fighters in Kandahar, everyone reports. The Pentagon announced on Friday that there were 50 prisoners at the time. The LAT portrays this development as one of the last duties for the Marines before they leave Afghanistan. Citing an anonymous officer, the paper reports that the Marines will be headed out of there within weeks, leaving the questioning of the prisoners to another division of the U.S. military.
The papers report that the administration has recalled Middle East envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni, whose mission to broker a peace deal between Israeli and Palestinian factions was all but rendered pointless last week when Israel announced it would no longer talk to the Palestinian leader. Zinni is supposed to go back to the region, the State Department spokesman said, but the spokesman didn’t give a timetable on that. Meanwhile, the Israeli military swept the Gaza Strip for Palestinian terrorist suspects, killing four and injuring scores. The NYT reports that the chief of Palestinian security forces said Israeli military strikes have made it impossible for him to stop the terrorist violence because most of his police stations have been bombed.
The WP front reports that the FBI is investigating the CIA because the agency’s labs may have been a source for the renegade anthrax sent to Capitol Hill. Genetic testing has indicated that the attack anthrax is originally from a U.S. Army lab which distributed the bug to U.S. bioweapons research programs, including the CIA’s. The CIA lab, whose anthrax stocks are part of a bioweapons program designed to defend against terrorism, its spokesman says, is one of a handful of labs the FBI is looking into. According to an anonymous source, the FBI is interested in a contractor who worked with the CIA.
The papers all say that this week the secretary of health and human services may make the anthrax vaccine available to civilians who have encountered large numbers of anthrax spores. The vaccine is normally only for the military. However, health officials fear that people who were exposed to the bacteria this fall and treated with antibiotics may still harbor dormant-for-now spores in their lungs which the drugs cannot kill.
The NYT front reports that members of China’s Muslim Uighur population believe that China, inspired in part by America’s focus on Islamic militants, has put Muslims to death in increasing numbers recently. Twenty-five Uighurs have been executed this year because the Chinese believed they were Islamic terrorists who posed a separatist threat.
Gun sales are up from 9 percent to 22 percent over each of the last three months across the United States according to FBI background check data, the NYT front says. Law enforcement officials believe fear of terrorism has driven gun sales. The paper didn’t manage to get any of the recent gun purchasers it quoted to explain precisely why a gun is a helpful defense against a terrorist attack, but a professor of criminal justice tried to explain the phenomenon to the paper by saying that when people get scared they want to protect themselves. Gun manufacturers are happy to help out by providing guns which at least sound like they are especially good for home-based anti-terrorism operations: A new model called the Homeland Security gun is now on the market.