Sat, May 17, 2003 - Page 1 News List

World on edge as terror warnings spread

POTENTIAL TARGETS The US State Department fears a repeat of Monday's bombings in Saudi Arabia as alerts of possible terror attacks were issued from Kenya to Asia


Terror alerts spread around the world yesterday with Australia and New Zealand warning their nationals to be on their guard in Southeast Asia, a region still haunted by last year's Bali bombings.

As Saudi, FBI and CIA agents hunted for the masterminds of this week's suicide bomb attacks in Riyadh, the US Department of State said on Thursday it feared an imminent attack by Islamic militants in another Saudi city, Jeddah.

Lebanon said it had smashed a plot to attack the US embassy in Beirut, while Britain banned flights to Kenya, where past terror attacks have killed hundreds.

In Pakistan, a US ally in the war on terror, nearly two dozen small bombs exploded at Western-branded gas stations.

Governments around the world believe al-Qaeda, the network of Saudi-born Osama bin Laden blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US, and its allies are planning more assaults on Western targets.

"It could be a variety of potential targets. It could be a variety of types of attacks," a US official said on condition of anonymity.

The intelligence was of "roughly" similar intensity to that before Monday's bombing attacks on expatriate compounds in Riyadh that killed at least 34 people, including seven Americans.

The Australian foreign office said Australians should be extremely cautious in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, East Timor and Brunei.

"We continue to receive reports that terrorist elements in the region are planning attacks," it said.

Jemaah Islamiah, a radical Muslim group linked to al-Qaeda, is accused of the bombings in Bali nightclubs last October that killed more than 200 people, many of them young Westerners.

US sources said yesterday a decision to renew a travel warning to Americans visiting Malaysia was not driven by any fresh information of a terrorist threat in the mostly Muslim country.

The Riyadh bombings were the first big attack on US interests since the ousting of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, portrayed by Washington as an integral part of its war on terror.

The US stuck to its view that this anti-terror war had shattered al-Qaeda's leadership, but Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge said: "The potential is still very, very real."

Reinforcing that threat, the State Department said it feared a repeat of Monday's bombings in Saudi Arabia.

In unusual criticism, Washington said the kingdom needed to do more to fight terrorism. Attorney-General John Ashcroft said the bombings showed Saudi Arabia had a "terrorism problem."

Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, admitted security lapses but rejected charges militancy was a home-grown phenomenon.

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