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Homeland Security

21 February 2007

Al-Qaida Threat in Western Hemisphere Should Be Taken Seriously

United States willing to collaborate with all against terror, including Venezuela

Washington -- In the wake of al-Qaida’s threat to attack oil facilities in the Western Hemisphere supplying the United States, a State Department official said the Bush administration takes those threats seriously and has offered to collaborate with all countries in the region, including Venezuela, which specifically was targeted.

Speaking to USINFO February 20, Alberto Fernandez, the director of public diplomacy in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said al-Qaida is seeking alternative means to strike at the United States and has “a track record of attacking economic and oil targets.”

On February 14, a Saudi wing of al-Qaida posted an announcement on an Internet site threatening to “hit oil interests in all regions which serve the United States, not just in the Middle East,” with a goal to “cut its supplies or reduce them through any means."  It specifically threatened Canada, Venezuela and Mexico.

“We have to take it seriously because al-Qaida has a track record of announcing things and fulfilling them,” Fernandez said. “There is enough evidence for concern without exaggerating it.”

He said al-Qaida has attempted attacks on petroleum installations in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and attempted to set a French supertanker ablaze despite its government’s political differences with the United States.

Venezuela, which has been strongly critical of the United States and has cultivated ties with state supporters of terrorism such as Iran and Syria, would be “very, very mistaken” to assume it would not be targeted.

“Within the context of al-Qaida [those relationships] means absolutely nothing,” Fernandez said.  “Iran has actually been a target of al-Qaida as well, and certainly Iran and the Shia population of Iran are not seen in any favorable light by al-Qaida.”

He added that Arab nations “certainly … don’t discount these types of threats,” and that al-Qaida’s threats against Venezuela came in the same manner and “from the same channels.”

In order to inflict harm on American targets, al-Qaida has shown its willingness to kill hundreds of bystanders from other countries indiscriminately, “whether these are hundreds of Africans, with the attacks on our embassies in Africa, or whether these are Germans in Tunisia or Australians in Bali, or Egyptians in Sharm el-Sheikh,” Fernandez said.

For that reason, the United States is concerned about the terrorist threat to Canada, Venezuela and Mexico, as well as to the broader region.

“The United States is willing to collaborate and cooperate with anyone in the hemisphere to fight this common foe, including Venezuela,” he said.  “There is ample room for cooperation, a win-win situation where everybody gains with added security and added cooperation.”

To date, the most significant terrorist presence in Latin America has been the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which was responsible for two major attacks in Argentina in 1992 and 1994.  However, Fernandez said al-Qaida was responsible for two attacks in the northern part of the Western Hemisphere, in 1993 at the World Trade Center and the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

He said there is concern that al-Qaida could make a connection with other groups in the region engaged in narco-terrorism or gang activity, such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS 13).  There also is continuing concern over the tri-border area of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina – due not only to Hezbollah activity, but to “Hamas and al-Qaida conspiracies as well.”

Al-Qaida looks for “the weakest links they can find” around the world from which to “prepare and plan and carry out acts of terror,” he said, recalling its recent activities in Somalia, the southern Philippines and North Waziristan.  “None of the countries of the Americas has an interest in seeing that happen for all of our sakes,” he said.

“There is enough evidence for concern without exaggerating it.”  Calling for hemispheric cooperation, Fernandez said, “We all need to take steps to do all we can to prevent this from becoming a worse reality in Latin America.”

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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