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The US Senate Friday doubled the bounty on Osama bin Laden to 50 million dollars, reflecting frustration that the Al Qaeda mastermind remains free and rising anxiety over possible future attacks. The vote followed a flurry of reports that the group behind the September 11 strikes in 2001 had rebuilt its safe haven, leadership and capacity to plot terror operations, and was trying to sneak operatives into the United States.

The Senate voted by 87-1 to boost the price on Bin Laden’s head under the State Department Rewards for Justice program, which has already paid out millions of dollars for top US targets, including Saddam Hussein’s sons.

It directs Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ‘to authorize a reward of 50 million dollars for the capture or death or information leading to the capture or death of Osama bin Laden.’

The bill also addresses frustration among some lawmakers that the Bush administration has still not caught bin Laden, despite launching a massive manhunt after the September 11 attacks, nearly six years go.

It requires the secretaries of state and defence and the director of national intelligence to produce a report to Congress every 90 days on progress towards bringing bin Laden and other terror leaders to justice.

North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, who wrote the amendment to a defence policy bill, said ‘it has been six years, and Al Qaeda is now rebuilding its terrorist training camps, along with the Taleban, in a safe harbor.

‘It has been six years and they are reconstituting their ability to attack us,’ he said.

Dorgan warned Al Qaeda ‘remains the greatest threat to the United States, even after these six long years; after two wars ... after trillions of dollars spent on those wars and for homeland security, after the deaths of thousands of our military, and after the wounding of tens of thousands of our military.’ Senators who spoke on the amendment mentioned a leaked draft of a new National Intelligence Estimate, which reportedly warned Al Qaeda had rebuilt a safe haven and leadership structure in Pakistani border areas.

As debate about a possible future attack by Al Qaeda on US territory mounted in Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said this week that he had a ‘gut’ feeling there was a heightened current risk of an attack.

President George W. Bush on Thursday denied reports that the intelligence assessment found Al Qaeda was back to its pre-September 11 strength.

‘There is a perception in the coverage that Al Qaeda may be as strong today as they were prior to September 11th. That’s simply not the case,’ Bush said.

White House deputy spokeswoman Dana Perino said Friday that the new national intelligence estimate was expected to be delivered to Bush within weeks.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that the group had rebuilt itself despite extensive US efforts to destroy the network.

The CIA’s deputy director for intelligence, John Kringen, told a congressional committee on Wednesday that Al Qaeda appears to be ‘fairly well-settled into the safe haven in the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan.’

The Rewards for Justice Program has so far paid out 62 million dollars in bounties leading to top US terror suspects or for the prevention of terror attacks, the State Department says.

Among the top payouts were the 15 million dollars each for Saddam’s son’s Uday and Qusay Hussein, killed by US troops in Iraq in 2003.


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