Washington Al-Qaida's leadership has regrouped, is communicating with members worldwide and poses a threat to the United States and Europe as great as that posed before the 9-11 terrorist attacks, says one of the leading architects of Germany's war on terror.
"With all that we now know, the threat (from al-Qaida) is at least as high as it was before the Sept. 11 attacks -- at least that high," German Interior Minister Otto Schily said during an interview Friday night with a small group of American journalists in Washington.
His comments echoed similar statements from U.S. officials, including CIA chief George Tenet.
Schily, who holds a post roughly equal to that of Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, also said his nation's security services were girding for the possibility that a U.S.-led war on Iraq could spark further terrorist attacks.
Although he declined to provide specifics or name individuals, Schily said al-Qaida leaders had "effective coordination" with their terror cells around the globe. He said unspecified intelligence showed the "network is working" again through those leaders.
Schily compared al-Qaida's command to the Hydra of ancient Greek mythology -- a serpent that grew two new heads each time one was lopped off.
Tourist destinations, or so-called soft targets such as the nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, where more than 200 people died in a bombing Oct. 12, remain highly attractive to al-Qaida, Schily said.
"This is our biggest concern. . . . You can't protect these soft targets; it's impossible," he said.
Schily, whose left-leaning government wants the Bush administration to hold off on a potential invasion of Iraq, said he feared U.S. military action could lead to attacks inside Europe from Iraqi agents, affiliated terrorist groups or sympathetic extremists.
"It could provide an impetus and incentive to more terrorist attacks," Schily said.