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WASHINGTON, July 12: President George W. Bush said on Thursday that he was working with President Gen Pervez Musharraf to ensure that Al Qaeda does not spread its influence in Pakistan.

A US intelligence report, discussed at the White House earlier on Thursday, said that Al Qaeda had established strongholds in Pakistan’s tribal belt and was stronger today than it had ever been since the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The five-page document pays special heed to the terror group's alleged havens in Pakistan and makes a range of observations about the threat posed to the United States and its allies.

But the report warns that a US military strike on these strongholds could spawn new militant activity in Pakistan.

Commenting on the intelligence assessment, Mr Bush told a news conference in Washington that media reports claiming that Al Qaeda today was as strong as it was before 9/11 were incorrect.

“I think the report will say, you know, since 2001, not prior to September the 11th 2001,” he said. “Because of actions we have taken, Al Qaeda is weaker today than they would have been.”

The group, however, was still a threat to US interests in Iraq, Afghanistan and in other places, he added.

“Is it Al Qaeda in Iraq? Yeah, it is Al Qaeda, just like it is Al Qaeda in parts of Pakistan,” said Mr Bush, confirming that Al Qaeda was spreading its influence in Pakistan.

“And I’m working with President Musharraf to be able to -- he does not want them in his country. He does not want foreign fighters in the outposts of his country. So we are working to make sure that we continue to keep the pressure on Al Qaeda.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani disagreed with the suggestion that Al Qaeda had established safe havens in Pakistan. “It has trickled into Pakistan, as it has done in Iraq but there are no Al Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan,” he said.

The ambassador agreed with Mr Bush’s suggestion that the US and its allies needed to have a comprehensive strategy to deal with groups like Al Qaeda.

In his news conference, Mr Bush stressed the need to have an alternative ideology to combat Al Qaeda. “If there’s not an alternative ideology presented, these thugs will be able to continue to recruit,” he said. “They will use hopelessness to be able to recruit.”

President Bush urged the US Congress to endorse a bill seeking more funds for providing economic assistance to the countries fighting extremists.

“The societies that don’t provide hope will become the societies where Al Qaeda has got the capacity to convince a youngster to go blow himself up,” he said.


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