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Homeland Security

SLUG: 2-304200 West Africa/ Terror

DATE= 6/10/03








INTRO: U-S officials have no information to substantiate two recent reports of alleged terrorist plots aimed against the American Embassy in the West African country of Mali. V-O-A National Security Correspondent Alex Belida reports from the Pentagon.

TEXT: A U-S defense official says over the last two weeks, several suspected terrorists with possible links to al-Qaida have been arrested in the border area between Algeria and Mali.

But this U-S official and others, speaking to V-O-A on condition of anonymity, say they have no information to substantiate two recent reports of alleged terrorist plots aimed against the U-S embassy in Bamako, Mali's capital.

One report, which appeared on the Internet Web site of the American broadcasting company A-B-C News, quoted foreign intelligence sources as saying Algerian and Malian security forces had uncovered evidence of a possible bomb plot in border raids. The alleged plan to bomb the embassy was linked to Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former Algerian army colonel who V-O-A first reported last year has been operating an arms smuggling network in west Africa with links to al-Qaida.

The second report appeared last month in the Bamako independent daily French-language newspaper Le Republicain. It alleged an anonymous telephone caller to the U-S embassy warned of an unspecified type of attack. The newspaper said the caller claimed to belong to a previously-unknown al-Qaida network operating in Mali.

Despite the reports, both defense and state department officials who spoke to V-O-A say there have been no recent changes in the security alert status at the U-S embassy in Bamako.

Privately, some sources speculate the threat stories may be the concoctions of Malian authorities anxious to win U-S security assistance, capitalizing on known concerns in Washington about an emerging terrorist threat in West Africa.

U-S defense officials acknowledge the Algerian-Malian border area is not well-controlled by authorities of either country. They say the relatively remote area is also populated by Islamic groups that they characterize as "very rugged, individualistic" and "politically marginalized and ostracized."

The officials tell V-O-A this makes it likely that terrorist groups like the one led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar find it easy to operate there.

U-S defense officials say they do not see the potential for a large terrorist center developing in the frontier area.

Nevertheless, the State Department late last year announced a Pan-Sahel Initiative to assist Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania in detecting and responding to the suspicious movement of people and goods across and within their borders through training, equipment and cooperation.

A State Department announcement said the initiative would serve two U-S national security interests in Africa: waging the war on terrorism and enhancing regional peace and security.

U-S authorities credit Mali with taking what a State Department report calls "active steps to combat terrorism." The report says the Malian government has been particularly receptive to the idea of strengthening its borders. (Signed)


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