Friday, April 19, 2002

Internet messages hint al-Qaida
may be targeting water systems

In the tiny towns that dot the Pakistani mountains east of the
Afghan border, small shops that seemingly offer residents little
more than dusty packs of cigarettes and canned goods are
stocked with one more essential - computers with Internet
access.

It is from this area, in northwest Pakistan, that U.S. intelligence
in recent weeks has picked up on increased communications
among al-Qaida members, according to U.S. officials.

Providers of free e-mail, such as Yahoo and Hotmail, require
no real information from a user. Messages can be kept secret
with encryption, a digital technology that encodes the
information on one end and reads at another using a special
algorithm.

The FBI's cybersecurity unit posted a bulletin on its Web site in
January warning that ``a computer that belonged to an
individual with indirect links to Osama Bin Laden contained
structural architecture computer programs that suggested the
individual was interested in .... dams and other water-retaining
structures.''

The National Infrastructure Protection Center's site also said
that ``al-Qaida members have sought information on water
supply and wastewater management practices in the U.S. and
abroad. There has also been interest in insecticides and pest
control products at several web sites.''

In early February, the London-based Al-Quds newspaper
published excerpts from an Arabic-language Web site that
claimed to represent al-Qaida. An article on the site, hosted
by Geocities, which is owned by Yahoo! Inc, bragged that the
group carried out the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, warned of
further violence and outlined an ideological future for the
organization.

EDITORS: Associated Press Writer Brian Bergstein
contributed to this report.