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Ridge says U.S. is still the No. 1 target of al-Qaida

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Tom Ridge

Tom Ridge

WASHINGTON — Despite reversals around the world, al-Qaida remains intent on launching a new terrorist strike inside the United States, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Wednesday.

"We are still their No. 1 target," Ridge said in an interview with The Associated Press. "If there's a consistent theme to all the intelligence we've received over the past two-plus years, it's their interest in undermining the United States economy, with an emphasis on aviation and infrastructure."

Ridge, who is overseeing the largest reorganization of the federal government in 50 years, said he believes that enhanced domestic security since Sept. 11 has caused al-Qaida to alter its operations.

Six months ago, Ridge's fledgling Homeland Security Department took over federal disaster response, immigration and security at U.S. borders, ports and airports. It is also receiving and analyzing intelligence gathered by the CIA and other agencies, looking for places in the United States that terrorists could strike.

"We are very confident in the administration that we have been able to thwart, foil or delay at least some terrorist acts within the United States," Ridge said.

He added, "We've been told by a couple of detainees that a couple of potential operations were put on the back shelf because of enhanced security."

Ridge declined to provide details.

"We're still at war," he said. "They still have the capability and the desire and the persistence to do us harm."