The United States claimed to have broken up Iraqi terrorist plots against US interests in at least two Middle Eastern countries and officials said they had uncovered similar attack plans for cities around the world.
“In recent days, we received information regrading specific terrorist plots in two countries involving Iraqi intelligence officers,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
“In both cases, operatives were arrested and terrorist material confiscated,” he said. “The planned attacks were not successful.”
Boucher declined to identify the countries involved but two senior US officials told AFP on condition of anonymity they were in the Middle East and that both countries had helped stop the attacks.
One official noted that on Sunday, Jordan expelled five Iraqi diplomats, accusing them of trying to undermine “security” and said the plots had been thwarted sometime after Wednesday.
A second official said the disruption of the plots had produced evidence that the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS), had plans to attack US and British interests in about 11 cities, many in the Middle East and the Gulf, Asia and perhaps London.
Boucher would not discuss the specifics of the arrests or information gleaned from them but the two officials said those detained were Iraqi intelligence agents who had been posing as diplomats.
The officials said they had been planning to attack “US and British facilities.”
All the officials said a US request this month for some 60 countries to expel Iraqi intelligence agents posing as diplomats had been instrumental to breaking up the plots.
“The IIS has primacy at Iraqi embassies around the world,” one official said.
Boucher said Washington was aware of “widespread terrorist planning against US interests involving Iraqi intelligence officers.”
“For that reason we have requested a number of countries to expel Iraqi intelligence officials based on the significant threat posed by their presence,” he said.
The response to the request, made public on March 6, has been mixed, but one senior US official said about 79 Iraqi intelligence agents posing as diplomats had been expelled from 17 nations.
Earlier this week, the State Department’s counter-terrorism coordinator Cofer Black said Washington expected a spike in terrorist attacks as the war against Iraq continues and made specific note of the threat from Iraqi intelligence agents.
Black said Washington also expected attacks from groups opposed to the conflict or using it as a pretense to vent anger at other US policies.
He stressed that the threat is global and that the threat came not only from Iraqi intelligence agents but from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network and other terrorist organizations.
“We always have been concerned about several sources of attacks: not only those by al-Qaeda and related groups but also by terrorists operating at the behest of Iraq or in sympathy to Iraq,” Black said.
He noted that terrorists committed some 200 attacks, most of them minor and many of them seemingly unrelated to Iraq, during the 1991 Gulf War.
“With several major exceptions, they were conducted primarily by groups or individuals with no known connections to Iraq,” Black said.
“In the current situation, we would expect al-Qaeda to launch attacks against US interests and assert that they were defending Muslims and the people of Iraq,” he said.
In the months leading up to the war, he said, US and other intelligence officials have reported an increase in “suspicious activities” around military facilities, ports, bridges and power plants.