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US Forces in Turkey Placed on High Alert - 2002-12-12

The Pentagon has ordered U.S. military bases in Turkey placed on a heightened state of alert after receiving intelligence that the al-Qaida terrorist network may be plotting an attack, perhaps with chemical or biological weapons.

A U.S. official tells VOA what's known as a threat awareness message was sent out to U.S. military facilities in Turkey earlier this week. It follows what a source would only describe as non-specific information from a number of sources that went beyond the usual so-called chatter normally picked up through intelligence channels.

This alert comes just days after Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz met with top Turkish officials in Ankara, after which the Turkish government gave conditional approval for the United States to use its airbases to launch strikes against Iraq, if President Bush decides to go to war against Baghdad. NATO airbases in Turkey were used in the Gulf war 11 years ago and continue to serve as a base for U.S. fighter jets enforcing Iraq's northern no fly zone.

All of this comes as Iraq denounces as ridiculous a published report that it supplied the deadly VX nerve agent to Islamic militants affiliated with al-Qaida. The Washington Post Thursday quoted what it calls knowledgeable sources as saying they suspect the deadly substance was given to such a group and then transported across the border into Turkey.

Even though U.S. officials are casting doubt on this report, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said "it should come as no surprise to anybody. Al-Qaida and other terrorist networks have had an appetite to get their hands on chemical and biological weapons".

Iraq acknowledged during the 1990s having produced tons of the VX agent but says all of its stockpiles have since been destroyed. A U.S. official tells VOA if Iraq had supplied the deadly substance to an al-Qaida sympathizer, the Bush administration, in light of its current campaign to prove Baghdad still has such weapons, would not hesitate in providing the evidence to show President Saddam Hussein's connection with terrorists.