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NATO Peacekeepers Disrupt Terrorists in Bosnia - 2001-10-24

The NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia says it has disrupted a terrorist organization in the country, but that it has so far not established any links between the group and the al-Qaida network of suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. NATO officials in Brussels will not give details about the operation, but do admit that the alliance led force in Bosnia worked with local authorities to break up the group.

NATO officials say at least four people are in the custody of Bosnian police on suspicion of being involved in terrorist activity. They say an investigation is being conducted into whether the four have links to al-Qaida, but that they have so far gathered no evidence of any such link.

One NATO official says the investigation is centered on an Algerian named Bensayah Belkacem, who was detained more than two weeks ago by Bosnian police. The official says he was detained after foreign intelligence services reported he allegedly made telephone calls to an associate of Osama bin Laden during which the two men discussed the procurement of foreign passports. When Mr. Belkacem's house in the town of Zenica was raided, police found several blank passports from various countries.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that NATO officials believe they foiled a planned terrorist attack against two U.S. military installations in Bosnia. But a NATO spokesman in Brussels, who refused to be identified, would not comment on that report. He said NATO will not provide details about any specific operation. A NATO spokesman in Bosnia, while acknowledging that the stabilization force believes it disrupted a terrorist organization, would not comment on the reported threat to U.S. bases.

Last week, Britain and the United States closed their embassies in Bosnia for three days because of what they said were security threats.

A NATO official in Brussels says that, last month, NATO troops and Bosnian police arrested at least six people, including an Egyptian and a Jordanian, on suspicion of links to terrorists. The Egyptian and the Jordanian were subsequently deported.

But the official says it is still not clear whether any of the people who have been detained for suspected links with terrorism were involved in the alleged threats to the U.S. and British embassies, or the reported threat to U.S. military installations in Bosnia.