"The Al Qaida of the 9/11 period is under catastrophic stress," State Department counter-terrorism coordinator Cofer Black said. "They are being hunted down, their days are numbered."
Black's assertion, made in an interview with the London-based British Broadcasting Corp. on Thursday, is based on U.S. intelligence community estimates that about 70 percent of Al Qaida has been neutralized, officials said.
Saudi officials agreed with the U.S. assessment and said the kingdom has made significant gains against Al Qaida, Middle East Newsline reported. They said Al Qaida leaders have been arrested and training camps have been discovered.
U.S. officials said Al Qaida has been rapidly losing its attack capabilities and was relying increasingly on smaller Islamic groups based in Southeast Asia and North Africa. The officials said thousands of Al Qaida operatives have been captured, killed or neutralized, with cells eliminated even in such strongholds as Kuwait and Yemen.
The intelligence community assessed that Al Qaida was at the height of its strength in mid-2001 with thousands of recruits trained in Afghanistan and other sent abroad as agents and sleepers.
The intelligence assessment was presented to the Bush administration and reported by President George Bush during his State of the Union address on Tuesday. The assessment regards Al Qaida as becoming steadily weaker, with difficulties in raising funds and sustaining insurgency cells.
[In Hamburg, a German court was told that authorities have a witness who claims that Osama Bin Laden met Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei and senior Iranian officials on May 4, 2001. The meeting took place in an air force base to plan the suicide attacks in the United States in September 2001. The witness was identified as an Iranian defector, known by his cover name Hamid Reza Zakeri, who had been an agent for Iranian intelligence until mid-2001.]
Officials said Al Qaida would continue as a much weaker organization and would focus largely on Saudi Arabia, the Horn of Africa while seeking to consolidate under the protection of Iran. They envision attacks being financed rather than carried out by Bin Laden.
The loss of veteran insurgency operatives has reduced the lethality of operations, officials said. Another factor has been the lack of success by Al Qaida to establish and sustain cells in many Western countries.
"The next group of concern would be a generation younger," Black said. "They're influenced by what they see on TV; they are influenced by misrepresentation of the facts. They seem to be long on radicalism and comparatively short on training."
"We have arrested over 600 terror suspects; many of the top Al Qaida leaders in the kingdom have been killed or captured," Adel Al Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, said. "And scores of cells and training camps have been uncovered and destroyed before they could do any harm to the innocent."
On Thursday, the United States and Saudi Arabia requested that the United Nations freeze the assets of four branches of an official Saudi charity accused of financially supporting Al Qaida. The U.S.-Saudi demand concerned the freezing of assets of the Riyad-based Al Haramain Islamic Foundation in such countries as Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan and Tanzania.
"These branches have provided financial, material and logistical support to the Al Qaida network and other terrorist organization," the U.S. Treasury Department said.
Al Haramain is a charity sponsored by the Saudi government. Saudi Islamic Affairs Minister Salah Ibn Abdul Aziz Al Sheik oversees the charity.
"Al Haramain stated it closed branches in Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania and Pakistan, but continued monitoring by the United States and Saudi Arabia indicates that these offices and or former officials associated with these branches are either continuing to operate or have other plans to avoid these measures," the Treasury Department said.