- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2003

Iraqi intelligence agents posing as diplomats have been arrested in a suspected plot to carry out terrorist attacks against U.S. targets in two foreign countries, the State Department confirmed yesterday.
The unidentified agents, members of the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS), also known as the Mukhabarat, were detained and "terrorist material was confiscated," mainly explosives, the department said. Specific information on where they were apprehended or what targets had been selected was not released.
The agents were taken into custody before the attacks could be carried out by "sleeper cells" already located in the two countries. Authorities believe one of the targeted countries was Jordan, although there was no official confirmation.
"Officers in the Iraqi intelligence service remain a threat because of their history of support for terrorism," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "The United States will continue to monitor this situation and work with our partners and allies to ensure the safety of American citizens and facilities overseas."
The State Department yesterday asked several countries to expel suspected Iraqi intelligence officers and senior envoys based on "the significant threat posed by their presence." Last week, the State Department expelled the last three Iraqi diplomats in Washington. So far, 17 countries have expelled Iraqi officers.
Clandestine terrorists operating in sleeper cells are believed to be in several countries, including the United States, and are suspected of planning attacks against U.S. targets and personnel. U.S. intelligence officials and law enforcement authorities said some of the cells are believed to be directed by Iraqi intelligence agents.
Earlier this month, federal authorities said they were looking for Iraqi sleeper cells that might have targeted for attack the Palo Verde nuclear power plant 50 miles west of Phoenix. The threat prompted the deployment of National Guard troops to the facility.
"We understand the sensitivity of this time, and we are very, very committed to protecting the safe operation of Palo Verde," Jim McDonald, a spokesman for the Arizona Public Service Co., which owns the reactor complex, told The Washington Times at the time.
One official said a report on the Palo Verde threat was contained in classified intelligence reports distributed to law-enforcement and security officials. A second U.S. official confirmed the report and said it was "uncorroborated threat information" that was sent to appropriate U.S. security authorities.
The threat to Palo Verde came as other intelligence reports indicated that Iraq had set up clandestine cells of operatives inside the United States or abroad that could be called on to conduct attacks or sabotage on behalf of Baghdad.
For example, recent intelligence reports indicated that Iraqi diplomats in Cairo had conducted surveillance of the U.S. Embassy there, U.S. officials said. Officials did not say how many Iraqi cells are in the country. Baghdad has nearly 250 officials posted to the United States, most of them at its U.N. mission in New York.
Meanwhile, the FBI said yesterday it plans to open and expand offices in 10 foreign capitals as part of an overseas expansion the bureau believes is critical in meeting the global threat of terrorism. New offices will be located in Sarajevo, Jakarta, Tashkent, Kabul and Belgrade. Existing offices would be expanded in Ottawa, Seoul, London, Berlin and Moscow.
In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the FBI assigned 500 agents to overseas assignments to focus on terrorism.
The FBI also is continuing to interview Iraqis in the United States for information that could help U.S. forces. Among those being sought are 3,000 illegal immigrants said to be missing, amid U.S. concerns that some could be connected with groups or agents of the Iraqi regime.
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has said the interviews are part of Operation Liberty Shield and are aimed at protecting the American people from acts of terrorism during the war with Iraq.
He has said the interviews are designed to assure the Iraqis of the FBI's responsibility to protect them from hate crimes and to elicit information on any potential operations of Iraqi agents or sympathizers.
Nearly 7,000 Iraqis in the United States have been questioned by the FBI over the past few weeks. Federal authorities said the interviews had yielded valuable information about possible military targets in Iraq.

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