Muslim Militants Said
To Target US Civilians
By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Muslim militants have issued an open call for attacks on U.S. civilians and allied interests worldwide, U.S. security officials said Tuesday.
Intelligence officials said they were taking the calls very seriously and that they considered them to be fatwas, or religious rulings, although the exact identity of the Muslim clerics issuing the purported edicts was not known. The threat was not tied only to the prospect, averted for now, of U.S.-led strikes on Iraq in the standoff over U.N. arms inspections, they said.
The calls were distributed by a coalition of Islamic groups in London and by Usama Bin Ladin, a Saudi national branded by the State Department as a ``well-known terrorist,'' the officials said in a statement released by Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican who chairs a Senate panel on terrorism. The militants called for ``attacks on U.S. persons and interests worldwide and on those of U.S. allies,'' said the memorandum from the Counterterrorist Center at the Central Intelligence Agency dated Monday.
Both purported edicts said attacks should continue until U.S. forces ``retreat'' from Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem. The one distributed in the names of Islamic groups in Britain also blessed attacks until economic sanctions on Iraq are lifted.
``These fatwas are the first from these groups that explicitly justify attacks on American civilians anywhere in the world,'' the center said in its memorandum to Kyl, who chaired a hearing on Tuesday on foreign guerrilla operations in the United States. ``We are still concerned about the threat. It is something that is being taken very seriously,'' one official said, notwithstanding the agreement between Iraq and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that ended the immediate threat of U.S. military action.
The counterterrorist center said both Bin Ladin and the coalition of militant groups had ``hinted in the past that civilians are legitimate targets.''
``This is the first religious ruling sanctifying such attacks,'' it added. The clerics who issued the rulings were not named, but the group in London referred to unidentified religious authorities in Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine.
After reading three paragraphs of the memorandum at the hearing, Kyl asked an FBI terrorism expert who was testifying whether the United States had entered a ``period of heightened risk.'' ``Certainly Americans should be concerned about these threats,'' Dale Watson of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's International Terrorism Operations section replied.
``We do see, working with our counterparts in the (CIA), increased threats toward American targets, not only military but soft targets around the world, U.S. businesses, businessmen, women, tourists and targets of that nature,'' he said. ``I think this is a trend.''

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