Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing


3-8Update on Arrests & Terrorist Threat
3, 7-8Alleged Usama bin Laden Connection / Ambassador Sheehan's Meeting with Taliban
3-5Will There Be Additional Arrests / Potential Extradition to US / Millennium Related
5US Discussions With Governments Worldwide
6Security at US Embassies / Relevance of Worldwide Caution to Threats in US

DPB #153
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 14, 1999, 1:15 P.M.


QUESTION: Can we move on to the arrests? Can you confirm any of the details that you have that suspected cohorts of Usama bin Laden have been arrested and you're looking for additional suspects - any of the details that have come out since yesterday?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I'm not going to be helpful to you for obvious reasons, and I'd be happy to get into them about some of the specifics of the counter-terrorist efforts that are ongoing in this case. As I said yesterday, we cannot provide very many specifics about the threat because we are working hard to counter it using law enforcement, intelligence and diplomatic measures.

I can say, however, that suspects have been arrested in connection with this threat. We believe they are members of Usama bin Laden's terrorist group, Al-Qaida. That network has a global reach as was demonstrated in the bombings of our embassies in Africa last year, and it is capable and determined to carry out deadly attacks against innocent persons - again, as was demonstrated given the very heavy civilian loss of life in the embassy bombings in Africa.

Members of bin Laden's network have been indicted in connection with the bombings in Africa last year and many enjoy safe haven, as you know, in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan.

Other suspects wanted in connection with planned attacks may belong to bin Laden's network or to other terrorist groups. US Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism, Michael Sheehan, met yesterday afternoon in New York City with Taliban representative, Abdul Hakeem Mujahid. Ambassador Sheehan stated emphatically that the United States will hold the Taliban responsible for any terrorist attacks that are carried out by bin Laden's network.

I would like to reiterate something that I indicated yesterday, which is that we are not trying to alarm the American public who may reside or travel abroad during this time of year. Our efforts to counter this threat will continue. It is, of course, our responsibility, though, to share with the American public such information that we have that may have relevance to their security and well being when traveling overseas.

Are there any more arrests envisaged and can you confirm the number? Is it about a dozen?

MR. FOLEY: I can't get into the specifics.

QUESTION: Is there any indication that --

MR. FOLEY: What I can say in response to your first question, though, is that, yes, this is an ongoing threat and, yes, there are ongoing law enforcement efforts to counter the threat. That, I might add, is one of the reasons why the whole issue is so sensitive.

I would like to say something in that regard, which is that I think that many of you, most perhaps all of you in the press understand what is at stake for the United States and for especially American citizens overseas. I think you understand the sensitivity of this case. I know you are all under very heavy competitive pressures to get to the bottom of the story, but I think you also recognize that our ability to protect Americans is at stake here. That is why I hope you will respect the fact that we can't be as specific as you would like us to be.

I think that the press has been understanding of that. I cannot say I think the same for some officials in the government who have been speaking to members of the press. I ordinarily don't wish upon anyone to read the transcript of my briefing, but I do hope that those officials in this city are paying attention and understand that talking about the specifics of this case is potentially detrimental to the security of Americans.

QUESTION: With that in mind, is it possible that some of these people who were arrested could be brought here for trial in the African bombing cases?

MR. FOLEY: I believe those are separate issues. Indictments have been proffered by the Justice Department in connection with the Africa bombings. This is a different case. That is not something that we're seeking at this time.

QUESTION: Can you say whether these arrests were made because of US intelligence information or was it because of information from the host country?

MR. FOLEY: Well, as you know, we've been tracking the terrorist threat that bin Laden and, indeed, other groups - because we are also vigilant about other groups and we are watching other groups at this moment in connection with the end of the year period. So I don't want you to conclude from what I'm going to say that this is not something that we're following extraordinarily closely; but I cannot answer your specific question because it's a very sensitive matter.

QUESTION: Along the same lines, is there any indication from the interrogations, information gathered from those arrested, that there are other groups that might be looking, as ABC last night said, to attack Christians in holy sites on New Year's Eve?

MR. FOLEY: Well, we've not been specific about the location of potential attacks because we believe that, actually, some of the information reported in the press is erroneous in that regard about specific locations. We have a responsibility to inform Americans of information that, as I said, would be relevant to their security and we have not been specific in that regard. Rather, we have indicated that this is potentially a global threat and, therefore, we issued a worldwide caution to Americans to be taking precautionary measures as they travel and move about overseas.

The first part of your question was?

QUESTION: The question was have you garnered from the fact, you know, from the first arrests --

MR. FOLEY: What I indicated - first of all, I'm not going to get into any specifics about the arrests or about the nature of our ongoing work to counter the threat. But what I did say to you a few minutes ago is that other suspects wanted in connection with planned attacks may belong to bin Laden's network and to other terrorist groups.

QUESTION: So there is an indication that there might be more than those arrested that would be looking to commit terrorist acts?


QUESTION: Jim, (inaudible) can you say, broadly speaking, whether these threats are millennium-related?

MR. FOLEY: I think the answer to that question is contained in the Public Announcement that we put out on Saturday afternoon where we indicated that the credible, specific information we had involved targeting of American citizens, among others, during the period of time leading up to and through the beginning of the New Year and Ramadan events and celebrations.

QUESTION: How seriously are we taking this threat, number one? Number two, if the State Department is in touch with the governments around the world as far as US citizens and the Embassies are concerned there?

MR. FOLEY: First of all, I think it's clear we take this threat with the utmost seriousness. Secondly, we have been in touch with governments around the world and we are communicating, obviously, to the American public through Public Announcements, through my statements here at the podium, through our website, and through all the means that Americans can access the specific information that each of our Embassies and Consulates provides about specific security conditions in each country around the world.

QUESTION: This is just a stab in the dark. There haven't been any other arrests elsewhere related to this, have there, outside of the Middle East?

MR. FOLEY: I'm not in a position to get into specifics. I don't have any new information beyond what I've just provided to give you.

QUESTION: Can you say that this is a worldwide threat because you are seeking people outside of the area where these threats were made?

MR. FOLEY: I can't comment on the specific efforts that are underway. I indicated they are of a law enforcement, of a diplomatic, and intelligence nature and it would be, frankly, irresponsible for me to be more specific than I have been already.

QUESTION: Has security at embassies been upgraded just in general for the millennium and, obviously, also in response to these threats? Are the embassies being protected at a higher level as well as you're asking Americans to be more careful?

MR. FOLEY: As you know, ever since the bombings of our embassies in Africa, we have been at generally a more heightened posture of alert and we've been undertaking measures to protect our embassies better, and we've received some fairly significant funding already from the Congress to upgrade security, physical security, at our embassies. I don't think any of our personnel in posts following what happened to our embassies last year need reminding of what the threats are that they face at posts overseas. I think their personal security awareness is at a very high level.

I can't comment on specific measures that embassies are undertaking. I'm not aware of any in particular, but certainly it also depends on the conditions at each post. But you can be certain, though, that our posts are undertaking all the necessary security precautions.

QUESTION: Jim, understanding your lack of willingness to be specific about certain places at certain times, any American traveling overseas and intending to - I don't see how any American traveling overseas and intending to be, say, in Manger Square on Christmas Eve or at the Vatican on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day can read your Public Announcement last Saturday in any other way except to avoid those types of large crowds.

MR. FOLEY: Well, you're inviting me to identify a specific place or area that might be subject to a threat, and I'm unable to do that principally because we don't have that kind of information. As I implied in answer to an earlier question, we have an obligation to share with the American public information that we have that will bear on their security, and you can be certain that if we have that kind of information that we will share it.

Nevertheless, the Public Announcement of Saturday is clear that Americans overseas should review their security practices, remain alert to the changing situation, exercise caution, be in touch with the American embassy and consulate, and avoid large crowds and gatherings. I think it's pretty clear.

QUESTION: Jim, can you say if the US, either through Sheehan's office or another office, since your warning says - since your announcement says that Americans are the subject of a specific --

MR. FOLEY: Among the targets.

QUESTION: Have you all asked any governments to take any extra measures to better protect specifically American groups or places where there might be large American groups? I know you've told Americans what they should do or what security practices they ought to take, but are you asking governments where such gatherings might take place to keep a better eye out for --

MR. FOLEY: Well, I think it's certainly in the interest of governments around the world to do everything they can to work against terrorist groups and threats and to protect Americans and other visitors, as well as their own nationals in any circumstances. In response to an earlier question, I said that we have been in touch with other governments but I'm not in a position to specify the nature of this discussions.

QUESTION: I apologize if you were asked this yesterday, but does this caution extend to this country?

MR. FOLEY: Apology accepted. With the proviso that it's important that Americans understand that at the federal, state and local levels law enforcement and responsible officials are supposed to be vigilant all the time, and that will continue to be the case; nevertheless, the information that we're sharing with the American public, the specific information that we have, is related to threats overseas and not US soil.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure whether - in response to another question - I'm confused. If you had information to (inaudible) making this - suggesting a potential site, let's just say Dubuque, that there was going to be an attack on Americans in Dubuque, does that mean that you would come out and say that we warn people to stay away from Dubuque?

MR. FOLEY: I don't want to be overly specific because everything is done on a case-by-case basis in terms of what information is provided. There are all kinds of factors that go into the degree to which we can speak publicly about intelligence information and law enforcement matters and efforts.

That said though, we have an obligation though to inform the American public about threats or dangers to their security. So the basic answer to your question is yes.

QUESTION: So if you had specific information about a specific site, chances are that you would be saying specifically?


QUESTION: Usama bin Laden is the problem of all the troubles that are going on in this world as far as terrorism is concerned, and he is in Afghanistan and sanctions are there --

MR. FOLEY: Let me, if I can interrupt, he is someone who has been identified by not only the United States but by countries around the world and, indeed, by the Security Council of the United Nations as an indicted terrorist who has killed innocent people around the world, but he is not the only terrorist threat in the world. There are other terrorist groups at work that have a record of killing innocent civilians and that we believe are still involved in planning terrorist activities.

QUESTION: I don't remember the exact wording you used, but a propo the Sheehan meeting yesterday with Mujahid. You know, when he warns the Taliban of consequences or serious consequences, what does that mean in light of the fact that sanctions are already in place?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I'm not going to be specific about what "serious consequences" means. That's a term of art in the field of diplomacy and it's serious, and I'm not going to spell out what "serious consequences" means. But in diplomatic parlance, though, that's strong language.

QUESTION: Did the Taliban representative have any response to Mr. Sheehan's --

MR. FOLEY: I'm not in a position to report his response, but I think he left the meeting without any doubt as to the seriousness of the attitude of the United States towards the consequences should there be any terrorist attack by bin Laden, a terrorist who is harbored by the Taliban at this moment.

QUESTION: You mentioned that Americans are among the targets?


QUESTION: Are there specific countries also that are within that target group, other countries' citizens?

MR. FOLEY: I don't have that information. I'm not aware that other nationalities are specifically targeted, but the information we developed was that terrorists were planning attacks that would have targeted Americans and others.

QUESTION: What is the - well, I guess you can't give the exact time frame but, for example, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, or would the entire period be risky?

MR. FOLEY: I just have to refer you back to our statement that was issued on Saturday that relates to the beginning of the New Year and into early January and the Ramadan period.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. FOLEY: I didn't say that.

QUESTION: I want to make sure that there was no - you can't say, though, there was any indication from the Taliban guy that there was any - there was no indication that they were going to change their position?

MR. FOLEY: I'm not in a position to report his response.


Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 2:05 P.M.)

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