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CIA Warned of Terrorist Attack Israeli Agency Saw Large Terrorist Movement into US 3

By Richard A. Serrano and John-Thor Dahlburg

(c) 2001, Los Angeles Times -- WASHINGTON

FBI and CIA officials were advised in August that as many as 200 terrorists were slipping into this country and planning “a major assault on the United States,” a high-ranking law enforcement official said Wednesday. The advisory was passed on by the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. It cautioned that it had picked up indications of a “large-scale target” in the United States and that Americans would be “very vulnerable,” the official said. It is not known whether U.S. authorities thought the warning to be credible, or whether it contained enough details to allow counter-terrorism teams to come up with a response. But the official said the advisory linked the information “back to Afghanistan and (exiled Saudi militant) Osama bin Laden.” “There was a connection there,” he said. Separately, federal authorities are gathering evidence that suggests that a small network of individuals helped fund and protect some of the 19 suicide attackers by providing cash, documents and possibly even safe houses. Attorney General John Ashcroft has said that authorities suspect that more airplanes were going to be hijacked and that other co-conspirators, possibly handlers and associates of the suicide attackers, remain at large. Mindy Tucker, spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said Wednesday that “we believe there are associates of the hijackers that have connections to the terrorist network that are present in the United States.” Other law enforcement authorities said such logistical support is typical within many terrorist cells. Some participants help others slip unnoticed from city to city, and country to country, by providing them with fake or fraudulent passports, cash gained through bank and credit-card fraud, and havens in their homes or in apartments rented under aliases, the authorities said. Officials continue to scrutinize the backgrounds of several individuals now in detention. They include Habib Zacarias Moussaoui, who was in a Minnesota jail on an Immigration and Naturalization Service violation on the morning that the World Trade Center towers were destroyed. He is now being questioned in connection with the attacks.