IMAGE: AUGUST HANNING
Roberto Pfeil  /  AP
Germany's intelligence chief August Hanning speaks at an anti-terrorism conference Thursday in Berlin.
updated 10/7/2004 11:04:42 AM ET 2004-10-07T15:04:42

Germany’s intelligence chief said Thursday he believes that Osama bin Laden is alive and continues to exert influence in his al-Qaida terror network.

“All indications are that he is alive,” August Hanning, head of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, said at a news conference.

German intelligence officials believe, as they have for some time, that bin Laden is living in the Afghan-Pakistani border area, Hanning said. He did not specify which side of the border.

“We continue to see traces of his activity. He tries to organize, to motivate” his followers, Hanning said. He did not elaborate.

The Saudi-born bin Laden’s organization is blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and a series of worldwide terror strikes since.

Descent into chaos seen in Iraq
Hanning also warned that violence in Iraq risks plunging the country into the chaos of a disintegrating “failed state” resembling terrorist havens like pre-Sept. 11 Afghanistan. U.S.-led airstrikes in Afghanistan ousted the Taliban in late 2001 for harboring bin Laden and al-Qaida.

A breakdown in Iraq would destabilize the Middle East, boost Islamic terrorism worldwide and might allow terrorists to put scientists involved in Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to work for them, the intelligence chief added.

Extending security across Iraq, with its diverse ethnic and religious groups, is “a tough task that will still claim many victims,” he said.

“The outlook is dark if this task is not mastered,” Hanning said in a speech at a terrorism conference. “In this case a trend like in Afghanistan or Lebanon in the past is a very likely scenario.”

Stoked by radical Islamic views inspired by bin Laden, terrorist attacks and military action by U.S.-led troops are pushing Iraq toward “a crossroads” that could end with peaceful reconstruction — or chaos, he said.

Setting Iraq firmly on the path to security and democracy “is by no means ensured because the way there is still very rocky,” Hanning said.

Anti-Western mood said to be growing
Hanning suggested that Western nations are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of young disaffected Arabs.

“I detect a still growing, generally anti-Western mood in the Muslim countries,” he said.

Germany, along with France and Russia, was a leading opponent of the war in Iraq and has refused to send troops.

But Hanning said all countries now have a stake in the country’s future because Islamic radicalism posed a global threat.

“That is why all of us have a common interest, whether we take part in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq or not,” he said. “This country must be stabilized.”

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