updated 7/16/2004 8:35:31 PM ET 2004-07-17T00:35:31

Al-Qaida may be recruiting non-Arabs less likely to attract the notice of security personnel to carry out attacks inside the United States, the FBI warned Friday.

The terrorist network especially seeks operatives who have U.S. citizenship or legal resident status, the FBI’s counterterrorism division said in its weekly bulletin to 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide.

“Finding operatives with U.S. status would greatly facilitate al-Qaida’s ability to carry out an attack within the United States,” said the bulletin, which was obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

The new warning comes amid a continuous stream of intelligence indicating that al-Qaida is determined to strike the United States in the summer or the fall. U.S. officials have said the network, which is blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, hopes to inflict mass casualties again and disrupt the U.S. political process in this presidential election year.

The latest FBI bulletin again makes no mention of a possible time, place or method of attack. Security is expected to be especially tight at this summer’s political conventions, which begin July 26 with the Democratic Party’s gathering in Boston. The Republican convention is in late August in New York.

Consultations in South Asia
Using non-Arabs might make it easier for al-Qaida to circumvent security measures in Europe and the United States, the bulletin said. Of special concern are people with ties to Islamic extremist groups in North Africa and parts of Asia outside the Middle East.

Still, the FBI said, almost all al-Qaida operatives in the past have traveled at least once to South Asia, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan, for “consultation and training.”

Afghanistan was the site of al-Qaida training camps before the U.S. invasion in 2001, and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding in remote regions of Pakistan, where his network has many sympathizers.

Because of its hard-line Muslim views, al-Qaida favors using male operatives between the ages of 18 and 35 in its attacks, the FBI said. But women could also be recruited, especially from areas considered more liberal on the subject, such as North and East Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, the FBI bulletin said.

Despite its warning about non-Middle Easterners, the bulletin said police and security personnel should not discount the possibility that Arabs could still be used in a U.S. attack, particularly if they were already in the United States.

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