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Terror threat heightened

Oct. 5, 2001 at 12:43 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Americans awoke Friday to grim warnings of the probability of new terrorist attacks at home and abroad, while the U.S. and British governments moved to shore up support for the war against terrorism and to separate Afghans from the country's extremist Taliban regime, which shelters accused terrorist Osama bin Laden and his al Qaida organization.

"The international coalition is against terrorism, not against Islam or the people of Afghanistan," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in a Pasto-language short-wave broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corp. "It is a fight against terror.

"While the Taliban connives with foreign terrorists, the Afghan people suffer from poverty, drought and hunger.

"As soon as this stops, the world will work with you, to build a better future for you and your children," he said.

The message was also broadcast in other languages, including Arabic.

The propaganda war, which also featured the Taliban Friday offering to try bin Laden if the United States gives it proof of his involvement in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, came as U.S. intelligence officials told Congress the probability of new terror attacks in the near future was high -- and "100 percent" should the United States launch military strikes against al Qaida and its Afghan protectors.

"We have to believe there will be another attempt by a terrorist group to hit us against," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told The Washington Post after a closed door briefing Thursday by the FBI and CIA.

"You can just about bet on it. That's just something you have to believe will happen."

The newspaper, quoting unidentified sources close to congressional intelligence committees, said the assessment was based on information from intelligence sources in Afghanistan, Pakistan, England and Germany.

Somali, Egyptian and Pakistani elements of bin Laden's al Qaida network were believed involved, but additional details were not made public.

Attorney General John Ashcroft had also warned earlier in the week about the likelihood of new terrorist actions against the U.S. domestically and abroad. Jitters over the threats - including those of biological or chemical attacks -- immediately raised suspicions and anxieties when a man with a Croatian passport inexplicably slit the throat of a bus driver in Tennessee, causing the bus to crash and kill 10 people, and a report Thursday that a Florida man had contracted anthrax. Both, however, were later said unconnected to terrorism.

On the military and diplomatic front Friday, maneuvering in advance of anticipated U.S.-led military strikes against bin Laden and Afghanistan was focused on Uzbekistan, a former Soviet Republic on Afghanistan's northern border.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, on the last leg of a four-nation swing, was holding talks with Presi9dent Islam Kasrimov, who had earlier said U.S. planes could use Uzbek airspace for its military response. On the agenda is believed possible deployment of U.S. troops to Uzbekistan to protect any planes that may be temporarily based there, and for use as a rapid reaction force.

Uzbekistan shares an 80-mile border with Afghanistan, where Islamist extremist Uzbek guerrillas have reportedly received training.

Earlier, Rumsfeld visited Saudi Arabia, Oman and Egypt for private talks, but where publicly he reiterated any attack on bin Laden and Afghanistan was not an attack against Islam or Arabs, rather an attack against terrorism, which threatens them all.

President Bush, who has repeatedly said the same, punctuated that sentiment Thursday when he announced the United States would deliver - by air drops if necessary - more than $300 million in food aid to the Afghan people, suffering under a drought and the ravages of civil war.

"... This is not a war between Christianity or Judaism and Islam," he said during a visit to the State Department. "... This is a war between good and evil. And we have made it clear to the world that we will stand strong on the side of good, and we expect other nations to join us."

In other developments:

-- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned the West against forcing Israel into making more concessions to appease the Arabs, who are being courted for an anti-terror coalition the United States is building.

The United States has been garnering Arab support in its coalition against Afghanistan's Taliban who are sheltering the Saudi exile suspected of masterminding the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington. Israel, which is the No. 1 recipient of U.S. aid, has found itself increasingly internationally isolated since Sharon, a hard-liner, took power last year.

Reaching into the past, Sharon at a news conference in Tel Aviv urged Western democracies and especially the United States not to repeat the "dreadful mistake of 1938 when enlightened European democracies decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia for a convenient temporary solution."

Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese Hezbollah are the three groups that have been troubling Israel the most. The Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad have rejected a cease-fire, despite efforts by Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to hold the line. On Thursday a Palestinian gunman in the central bus station in Afula, in northern Israel, killed three Israelis and injured 13 people. Palestinian deaths also mounted. In the West Bank town of Hebron, a Palestinian was killed and several children were injured by Israeli troops, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

-- N.Y. State Budget Director Carole Stone said the attack on the World Trade center, into which two hijacked airliners were crashed, could cost the state up to $9 billion in lost revenues. It's impact on state spending for education, healthcare and economic development has not yet been assessed.

-- Japan's government announced Friday endorsement of two bills authorizing its military to help guard U.S. bases in Japan and to provide non-combat support in the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

-- In London, 27-year-old Lotfi Raissi, accused of having taught four of the Sept. 11 hijackers how to pilot aircraft, was remanded in custody for three weeks. Raissi is wanted in the United States and faces possible extradition.

-- Pakistan has offered Afghanistan's former king, Zahir Shah, help in forming a broad-based government should the Taliban fall. The ex-monarch, toppled in 1973, is seen as a key figure in uniting the Afghan people and coordinating formation of a new government in Kabul among by competing factions.

-- The leaders of 10 East European states offered full support to Washington in the fight against terrorism. The countries are Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Macedonia and Croatia. All but Croatia aspire to eventual NATO membership.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in Pakistan Friday for talks with Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who has opened Pakistani airspace and ground facilities to U.S.-led forces in possible strikes against Afghanistan despite public opposition.

Pakistan's leaders hope that visits by international leaders and the publicizing of evidence linking bin Laden to the Sept 11 attacks that killed more than 6,000 people will help diffuse domestic criticism.

© 2001 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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