Terrorist network suspected

January 24, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

Western intelligence agencies say they have uncovered leads to what they believe is a network of terrorists trained in Baghdad, Iraq, and sent around the globe.

Using diaries, a photo album and passports from two would-be bombers directed by the Iraqi Embassy in Manila, Philippines, the agencies were able to find clues to other potential Arab terrorists.

Evidences uncovered in the Philippines led to the arrests of two Iraqis and two Jordanians in Bangkok, Thailand, yesterday, as well as an international police and immigration alert for Iraqis or others using passports and travel patterns similar to those detected here.

Evidence also is growing that Iraqi embassies have used diplomatic pouches to import arms and explosives. Hundreds of armed Thai troops were deployed to embassies, airline offices and other potential terrorist sites in Bangkok last weekend after authorities received credible reports that the Iraqi Embassy had smuggled in and distributed weapons, C-4 military explosive and sophisticated timers to terrorist teams.

"The volume is quite large," one official in Manila said. "They're talking about crates of weapons."

The authorities especially fear the Iraqis may have smuggled in Soviet SA-16 shoulder-fired missiles, similar to American-made "Stinger" missiles, which can be used to shoot down an airliner.

The official said Bangkok appears to be a "logistics center" for Iraqi terrorist attacks in Asia. "They're bringing people in," he said. "They're bringing supplies in. And they're expert at making fake passports."

Anomalies in passports used by two Iraqis involved in a bungled bombing near a U.S. library in Manila Saturday has given what another official called a "major break" in the search for Iraqi terrorists. "Now we have something to go on, to look for in other countries," he said.

He said the search would be "most intensive" in countries with known concentrations of Iraqis, Lebanese and Palestinians, "places where they have a local community in which to hide."

He specifically cited Greece and Italy in southern Europe, most of Central America, a dozen countries in West Africa, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

In addition, it was learned that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration advised airlines Tuesday night that 140 Ethiopian passports had been stolen and were believed to be in the hands of a Middle East terrorist organization.

Although terrorist bombings have been reported around the globe since the Persian Gulf war began last week, the attempted bombing in Manila was the first, and so far only, terrorist attack that has conclusively been traced to an Iraqi embassy. Officials said the passports and other evidence indicated the terrorists had been sent from Baghdad specifically to carry out the bombing.

"It is clear that what has happened here is part of a global deployment by the Iraqis," a third Western official said. "We think this is a well-planned and extensive operation in which groups were sent out and prepositioned all over the place."

But for such a large operation, relatively few terrorist acts have been launched.

U.S. intelligence sources theorized that that the bombing in Iraq may have damaged Saddam Hussein's ability to communicate with Iraqi agents known to have been dispatched earlier.

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