WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence agencies are watching several groups of Middle Eastern men thought to be among some 5,000 al Qaeda members and supporters in the United States, The Washington Times reported on Thursday.
Small groups of about a half-dozen men in Seattle, Chicago, Detroit and Atlanta are under surveillance and believed to be part of Osama bin Laden's network, the newspaper reported, citing intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"Our "intelligence estimate is that there are up to 5,000 people in the United States connected to Al Qaeda," one U.S. intelligence officials said.
The newspaper said the 5,000 figure was included in classified intelligence reports sent to government policy-makers within the past month.
The United States has blamed Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network for the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks that killed about 3,000 people.
Earlier this year, U.S. government officials put al Qaeda numbers in the United State at more than 100 active members with hundreds of sympathizers.
A second U.S. official told The Washington Times that it was difficult to determine the exact number of al Qaeda in the United States because of the clandestine nature of the group.
"It depends on how you define an al Qaeda member," the official said. "There are hardened members and Muslims with sympathies to bin Laden.
An FBI spokesman would not comment on the groups under surveillance and told the newspaper that the number of al Qaeda members and supporters in the United States has not been made public.
Have you visited you neighborhood mosque lately ?
Originally Posted By EricTheHun
I think maybe you oughtta get yourself an M-16 ~ Col Hal Moore
Time comes I need one Sir, there'll be plenty of 'em lying on the ground ~ Sgt Maj Plumley