The Los Angeles Times leads with, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with, news that federal prosecutors indicted five men yesterday in Detroit and said they were part of a "sleeper operational combat cell" and were planning terror attacks. The government also indicted a man in Seattle yesterday and charged him with attempting to set up an al-Qaida training base there. The Washington Post leads with an as-yet unreleased U.N. report that's found that efforts to shut down al-Qaida finances have stalled. The report, which the Post says will be released next week, estimates that al-Qaida continues to draw in donations—from charity fronts and other places—of about $16 mil per year. "By all accounts al-Qaida is 'fit and well,' " the report concludes. The New York Times' lead says that administration officials now agree that they should get, as the NYT puts it, "some new explicit sign of approval from Congress—but not necessarily a formal vote" before invading Iraq. The Times says that administration officials are also debating whether they should try to get UN approval, which would entail making a final push to get weapons inspectors back in. USA Today leads with news that, as the WSJ tipped off yesterday, WorldCom's former top financial exec was indicted on charges of fraud. WorldCom's former accounting director was also indicted. Prosecutors said three other company execs were also about to be turn state's evidence and plead guilty to some, as yet unspecified, charges.
According to the indictment against the men arrested in Detroit, they're part of a group called "Salafiyya," or the "True Path," which is "one arm of the greater global jihadist organization known as al-Qaida." The men aren't being charged with any connection to 9/11. The NYT notes up high that a few of the guys had worked at the Detroit airport as food vendors. Also, when police arrested the men they found copies of "surveillance" tapes of Disneyland as well as the MGM Grand Hotel in Vegas. While the WSJ, WP and LAT all say that five men were indicted, the NYT sticks with "four." So far as Today's Papers can tell, the discrepancy is caused by the fact that one of the Detroit guys is tattling on his teammates and thus authorities either 1) haven't charged him (NYT's version) or 2) haven't released the charges against him (LAT). The Post, which says the guy has been charged, mentions that he's "named in the indictment but is not mentioned in the body of the document."
Also yesterday, as everybody notes, German prosecutors indicted a man who they accuse of being a member of the al-Qaida cell in Hamburg that helped to carry out 9/11.
The UN's al-Qaida report, which is the focus of the WP's lead, sounds scary. But it may be based on pretty rough intel. The report seems to estimate that al-Qaida's bank accounts are worth somewhere between $30-300 million. That's a big range.
The NYT's lead notes that one administration official said that the White House's tough talk earlier this week about how it doesn't need congressional approval was essentially a bargaining tactic to, as the NYT puts it, "make Congress more pliant." The Times also says that while Bush officially hasn't made up his mind about whether to push for inspectors, a number of administration officials assume he's simpatico with Vice President Cheney, who earlier this week essentially declared the inspection idea to be kaput. Said one senior official, "Cheney doesn't freelance."
The Post's op-ed page has the latest invasion missive from a 1980's White House staffer. This time it's Al Haig, and it looks like he votes aye: "Ultimately, an American foreign policy that allows a country such as Iraq to acquire weapons of mass destruction while violating solemn agreements is a guarantee of a world on the edge of greater terrors to come."
The NYT fronts word that Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, challenged his country's hard-line clerics yesterday and said he will propose legislation expanding the presidency's powers so that he can carry out reforms. "We cannot speak of democracy if we are not ready to play by its rules," he said.
USAT goes below the fold with a report saying that the government's new air marshal program is facing a "flood" of resignations. As USAT pointed out a few weeks ago, agents say they're under-trained and overworked. "We were promised the Garden of Eden," says one current marshal. "We were given hell."
The NYT's obit page notes the death of a true hero: Per Anger, who was 88, was a Swedish diplomat. While working in Hungary during World War II he saved thousands of Jews by helping to hide them and by issuing them Swedish passports. Anger spent many years after the war looking for his partner in the operation: Raul Wallenberg.
The WP fronts news, first reported in Variety, that CBS is developing a reality-based show based on the old sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. According to a CBS spokesman, the network is prowling around "mountainous, rural areas" looking for a "multi-generational family of five or more—parents, children and grandparents—who will be relocated for at least a year" to a mansion in 90210. One of the program's developers insists that the show won't play into stereotypes. But, he adds, "If somebody is a stereotypical swing-from-the-trees hillbilly who shoots the lights out and parks cars in the front yard—hey, it happens. I live near that."