WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration has allowed a resurgence of the al-Qaida terrorist organization by focusing on toppling the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Sen. Bob Graham said Tuesday.
Graham (D-Fla.), a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he agreed with the assessment of administration officials that the bombings Monday in Saudi Arabia that killed 29 and injured dozens were probably the work of al-Qaida operatives.
Graham said he also believed that Monday's bombing in Chechnya also was the work of al-Qaida. Both the Saudi and Chechen attacks involved the use of truck bombs.
"If al-Qaida is able to mount terrorist operations in Chechnya and Saudi Arabia on the same day, that's an indication that they are a substantially rebuilt organization with very significant capabilities," Graham said.
Graham, who voted against the Senate resolution authorizing the Iraq war, said he believes the Iraqi conflict diverted military and intelligence resources away from the war against terrorism.
Al-Qaida was "on the ropes" about a year ago but the shift of resources to Iraq has allowed it to regenerate, he said.
"They're probably not back to the way they were before September the 11th, but they're a lot closer to that level and capability than they were a year ago," Graham said. "The war on Iraq was a distraction. It took us off the war on terror, which we were on a path to win, but now we've let it slip away from us."
The war on terrorism, launched in Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, has degenerated into a manhunt for top al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden, Graham said. Meanwhile, "we have allowed the basic structure of al-Qaida to continue. . . . We're also finding that al-Qaida has a deep farm team and they're able to replace those who are killed or detained."
Graham said he would have continued to pursue the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan and moved into other countries, such as Yemen. He said al-Qaida has a presence in 30 to 40 countries, including the United States, but the extent of that presence is classified.
Graham, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, said his criticism of the Bush administration's conduct of the war on terrorism is not politically motivated and noted that he made similar comments last fall before becoming a candidate.
Graham reiterated comments he made Sunday charging that the Bush administration -- and specifically the FBI and the CIA -- had information that was not acted upon prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, but which the administration will not allow to be released.
"There was information which the administration and its agencies knew before September the 11th that was not acted upon. That same information is available today -- it's not being acted upon today. That failure to act contributed to September the 11th and the failure to act today continues Americans in a vulnerable circumstance," Graham said.
© 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution