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FBI Director Warns Southeast Asian Nations to be Vigilant - 2002-03-18

The head of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has alerted governments in Southeast Asia to watch for attempts by international terrorists to obtain weapons of mass destruction. The remarks by the FBI director of the came in Manila at the end of a seven-nation tour of the region.

Robert Mueller issued the warning at a news conference Monday in Manila. He said evidence gathered since the September attacks in the United States is sufficient to cause concern and to warn other countries to be vigilant.

The U.S. official said it was clear that the al-Qaida terrorist group was seeking to obtain biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and that it had established a presence in southeast Asia. He said security officials were putting the pieces together to develop a more detailed picture of the group's presence in the region.

Mr. Mueller Monday met President Gloria Arroyo and Philippine security officials, who have been among the region's strongest supporters of the U.S.-led war on international terrorism. U.S. troops are currently in the southern Philippines on joint exercises with Philippine forces who are hunting Abu Sayyaf rebels who have been linked to the al-Qaida group.

Authorities in the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia in recent months have arrested several dozen Islamic militants they say are linked to the Jemaah Islamiyah group that was planning terrorist attacks in the region.

The head of the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Reynaldo Wycoco, told reporters Mr. Mueller expressed gratitude for the Philippine's help. "Director Mueller thanked the NBI and the Philippine government for the support and assistance we have been extending to our mutual anti-terrorist campaign in this part of the world," he said.

He added that Mr. Mueller suggested his organization provide additional training in intercepting funds destined for terrorists and in intelligence sharing.

The FBI director flew to Manila after a visit Sunday to Thailand where he told Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that cooperation with the Thai government since September has been unmatched. He voiced similar praise for the governments of Malaysia and Singapore where he offered American assistance in anti-terrorism training.

In Indonesia, Mr. Mueller heard senior officials pledge they will fight terrorism, but will use their own methods in the predominantly Muslim nation.