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CIA Director George Tenet
Photo: CIA

More than five months have passed since September 11 and, as strange as it may seem, the world might now be considered a safer place as a result of that day's tragic events. A successful military campaign led to the dismantling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had been hosting anti-Western militant terrorists for years. Perhaps most importantly, according to CIA Director George Tenet, America and its allies have captured more than 1,000 al Qaeda operatives in more than 60 countries.

Still, the specter of terrorism continues to loom. Worldwide public enemy #1 Osama bin Laden is believed to be still at large despite the efforts of the U.S. and British forces in Afghanistan. And pockets of his sympathizers remain below the radar in countries around the world.

But you don't need to go peeking under rocks for evidence that terrorism remains a genuine threat to national security. A quick glance at the front pages of the world's newspapers will do.

For instance, during a transatlantic flight on December 22, British national Richard Reid had to be subdued by his fellow passengers after trying to light explosives in his high-top sneakers. Officials say that had he succeeded, Reid would have blown a hole in the side of the plane. Reid was arrested in Boston and has been indicted on five counts that could result in up to five life sentences. "We stand by the allegations in the indictment that he received training in Afghanistan from al Qaeda," Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan said the day Reid was arraigned.

During testimony before Congress on February 8, the CIA's Tenet outlined the challenges that lie ahead for combating terrorism. "Al Qaeda's leaders, still at large, are working to reconstitute the organization and resume its terrorist operations. We must eradicate these organizations by denying them their sources of financing, eliminating their ability to hijack charitable organizations for their terrorist purposes. We must be prepared for a long war, and we must not falter," he said. Moreover, the director described other militant organizations with agendas that may employ terror against the U.S. Among them, he said, are the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah and leftist insurgents in Colombia. "If these groups feel that U.S. actions are threatening their existence," said Tenet, "they may begin targeting Americans directly."

In the war on terrorism thus far, the U.S. has made only one publicly disclosed military move beyond its actions in Afghanistan. Last month, roughly 650 American anti-terrorism experts and special operations troops arrived in Mindanao, a region in the southern Philippines. Mindanao is reputedly a hotbed of Islamic radicals with sympathies to al Qaeda. Under Philippine law, the U.S. servicemen will not be permitted to engage in any combat missions while on Philippine soil. The official role of the Americans will be as advisors to Philippine troops.

It is quite possible, however, that the United States is taking covert action somewhere, led by the CIA or one of the military's special operations divisions. Both Tenet and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have indicated that significant portions of the ongoing battle against terrorism will take place out of public view.

Other nations identified by U.S. officials as safe havens for terrorists include North Korea, Iran and Iraq, all countries believed to have weapons of mass destruction, primarily in the form of biological weapons. In his State of the Union speech in January, President Bush identified the three as part of an "axis of evil."

Of the three, Iraq appears the most likely target of military action, though such a campaign would probably have to be undertaken unilaterally by the U.S. America's European allies have expressed reluctance to support new attacks on the Persian Gulf nation, and such a move might stir up further anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world.

By Ethan Zindler

Tune into "Be Heard: An MTV Global Discussion With Colin Powell," premiering February 14 at 8 p.m. ET. Colin Powell answers your questions about world events during the show. Check the Weekly Schedule for encore air times.

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