Al-Qaeda has restructured itself and is planning spectacular attacks against the US, according to an interview obtained by a London-based Arabic-language magazine which has previously reported contacts with the organization.
In the latest edition of al-Majalla, published yesterday, a spokesman for al-Qaeda denied it had been rendered inoperative and explained that familiar faces had been replaced by newcomers "who have a very good security cover."
The interview was conducted on the Internet by al-Majalla's Dubai correspondent, Mahmoud Khalil, who received an e-mail two months ago from a man who gave his name as Thabet bin Qais and described himself as al-Qaeda's new spokesman.
Khalil had been in contact with Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, the previous spokes-man. Bin Qais, who offered no information about his own nationality or background, stated that he took on the job of media contact as part of al-Qaeda's internal reorganization. He said he was using a list of contacts maintained by his predecessor.
"The Americans only have predictions and old intelligence left," the magazine quoted Bin Qais as saying. "It will take them a long time to understand the new form of al-Qaeda."
The organization remained "way ahead of the Americans and its allies in the intelligence war; American security agencies still are ignorant of the changes the leadership has made."
Khalil said he was suspicious of his identity until Bin Qais reminded him of a private exchange between him and al-Rashed about an interview he was trying to arrange with an al-Qaeda member.
"A strike against America is definitely coming," Bin Qais said. He insisted that the arrests of al-Qaedam members, including the suspected Sept. 11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, would have little effect on the organization because those held had been replaced.
"Martyrdom operations in the jihad will go on," he said.
Although some members had been killed or arrested in the international clampdown since the Sept. 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda's founder and leader, was still alive and free, he said.
The magazine said that Bin Qais was responding to reports from the US that al-Qaeda had planned suicide attacks against the US consulate in Karachi and that it was using planes laden with high explosives to target US warships in the Gulf.
"Let the Americans do what they want but we have changed our plans," he told the magazine. "Karachi is not a target."
The interview is not the main story in the magazine, which focuses on the Pentagon's decision to pull US troops out of Saudi Arabian bases.
Bin Qais surfaced as the Saudi government announced it had foiled a suspected al-Qaeda plot to assassinate members of the country's royal family.
Saudi authorities seized weapons and explosives in a Riyadh house on Wednesday. Nineteen suspected terrorists escaped after a gunfight with police, leaving computer records and documents. A Saudi official said that the group had been ordered to mount attacks by Osama Bin Laden, and that the main targets were the defense minister, Prince Sultan, and his brother, the interior minister, Prince Nayef.
Prince Nayef said the group included 17 Saudis, an Iraqi-born man holding Kuwaiti and Canadian citizenship, and a Yemeni. He said all had been trained in Afghanistan.
US intelligence experts are divided over how badly al-Qaeda has been damaged by recent arrests. Some believe that it is no longer capable of mounting a sophisticated operation like the Sept. 11 attacks.