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Al Qaeda Seen Planning MAJOR Strikes says Interpol

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PARIS (Reuters) - Al Qaeda militants seem to be preparing simultaneous attacks in several countries including the United States, the head of the world-wide police authority Interpol said in a newspaper interview published on Friday.

Without saying an attack was imminent, Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble told the Paris daily Le Figaro that recent intelligence suggested it was gearing up for the attacks.

Noble also said he thought Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) was alive, even though nobody has been able to track him down.

"Something worrying is going on," he said. "All intelligence experts are agreed that al Qaeda is preparing a major terrorist operation, simultaneous attacks that would not target the United States alone but several countries at the same time."

"The field of battle now stretches to all countries and mobilizes several terrorist groups," he said.

Noble, the first American to head the France-based operation that coordinates international crime fighting, said that, despite some successes in cracking down on militant groups, particularly in Europe, the risk of attacks was as real as ever.

"I would say that the risk today is at least as important as before September 11. Sleeping cells remain in place, unknown to the police, but ready to act from one day to another," he said.

Noble is the latest of a number of security experts to have said recently they think Saudi-born militant bin Laden escaped U.S. bombing last year of his former hideout in Afghanistan (news - web sites).

"Osama bin Laden is alive," he said.

"Despite intensive searches, we have not managed to locate him. But until someone can prove to me the contrary, I consider Osama bin Laden a fugitive who is alive," he said.

Noble said bin Laden's funding had been left intact by efforts to crack down on the financing of militant groups.

"Osama bin Laden is a multimillionaire. He was hugely rich before September 11 and he still is today." he said, estimating his fortune at between $280-300 million, a large part of which was held in cash.

General Richard Myers, the most senior U.S. military officer, said on Thursday he believed al Qaeda would still be able to launch a "major terrorist operation" whether bin Laden was alive or dead, and that several operations had already been thwarted.

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