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Sympathy for Iraq Could Lead to Terror Attacks, Says US Official - 2003-03-27

A State Department official has told Congress the United States and its coalition partners could face terrorist threats from a variety of sources acting out of sympathy for Iraq.

The State Department's Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism, J. Cofer Black, appeared before the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, and gave this assessment of the threat. "We now are concerned about several sources of attacks: al-Qaida and associated related groups, terrorists operating at the behest of, or in sympathy to Iraq," says Mr. Black. "We are concerned that Iraqi intelligence officers are assuming top authority in Iraqi diplomatic missions overseas and may be instructed to take actions against the U.S. or coalition interests."

Mr. Black says the United States has been urging other countries to expel Iraqi diplomats to minimize the threat of attacks. In addition, he says, other groups with no ties to Iraq, or to al-Qaida, may use the opportunity to strike at the United States or its allies.

A key part of the U.S. war on terrorism has been the effort to trace and eliminate the sources of funding for terrorist groups. Mr. Black says al-Qaida has been, in his words, "significantly degraded" since the September 2001 terrorist attacks. "Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's arrest was a major setback for this organization, a gain for our side. We have been making very good progress in undermining the group. We are on the offensive," he says. "We're going after their men. We're going after their money. And we're going after their hideouts."

Mr. Black says although al-Qaida is "under stress" it and other groups remain very dangerous. He says there are indications al-Qaida is planning both large and small-scale attacks using the pretext of "defending" Muslims and the people of Iraq.

Some lawmakers are not satisfied with Bush administration efforts to put pressure on countries the State Department lists as key terrorist-sponsoring states. Others believe European allies are not doing enough to crack down on financing of key terrorist groups, or to pressure terror-sponsoring states such as Iran.

"We need multilateral action and instead, we find a Europe that is not only doing business as usual, but going out of its way to court a regime in Tehran that is every bit as much of a threat to the United States as the Taliban regime, or the Saddam Hussein regime," says Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman.

In his testimony Wednesday, the State Department terrorism coordinator said sustaining the political will of countries around the world to continue the fight against terrorism will determine how successful the war on terror can be.