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Terror Suspects in Miami; Disclosure of Secret Data-Sifting Program

U.S. government officials say the arrest of seven suspected terrorists in Miami, Florida represents a step forward in the war against terror. But as VOA's Peter Fedynsky reports, U.S. officials say media disclosure of a secret banking surveillance program is a step in the wrong direction.

Law enforcement officials say the arrests were made after a U.S. government informant posing as a member of al-Qaida infiltrated a group of seven suspected terrorists. Their arrest disrupted an alleged plot, still in an early stage, to bomb several federal buildings in Miami and also America's tallest building, the Sears tower in Chicago.

The indictment alleges one of the suspects wanted to "wage a full ground war against the United States and to kill all the devils we can."

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says the suspects -- five of them U.S. citizens -- represent a new brand of homegrown terrorism made possible by a convergence of globalization and technology.

"Today, terrorist threats may come from smaller, more loosely-defined cells who are not affiliated with al-Qaida, but who are inspired by a violent jihadist message,” said the Attorney General. “And left unchecked, these homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like Al Qaida."

Gonzales says recent terrorist attacks in Madrid and London as well as the arrest of terror suspects in Toronto demonstrate the challenges posed by homegrown terrorists who live in the area that they intend to attack.

In Chicago, workers at the Sears Tower expressed moderate concern about being possible targets.

"I think it's definitely going to raise some eyebrows, but I don't think that people are going to stop going about their daily routine," said one office worker.

"We've grown so numb to this because it happens every single day. It's in the news constantly, the war in Iraq, so you kind of become numb. Because of the whole situation [it] doesn't really scare you anymore, because if it did scare you, you really wouldn't leave the house," said another.

"They're a bunch of jerks and if we let it bother us, they've won," added a third Chicago resident.

In another development, Treasury Secretary John Snow criticized several major American newspapers for disclosing the existence of a secret U.S. government program, which sifts global banking data to track terrorist money transfers. The newspaper articles say the administration did not seek individual subpoenas for the information. Snow says Congress was informed of the program and that it did not violate privacy rights.

"By following the money, we've been able to locate operatives, we've been able to locate their financiers, we've been able to chart terrorist networks, and we've been able to bring the terrorists to justice,” said Secretary Snow. “And by doing this, of course, we saved lives."

Secretary Snow says disclosure of the program could jeopardize a valuable tool against terrorism. Critics are concerned that government possession of banking data opens the door to possible violations of American civil liberties.