Could Saddam Strike Here?

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As President Bush moves closer to war in Iraq, the FBI is preparing for an escalating threat of terror from both Iraqi operatives and other groups, Anticipating both direct retaliation by Iraqis and sympathy strikes by radical jihadists, the bureau is expanding its presence in émigré communities in both overt and covert ways. Agents are contacting legal immigrants in the hope that they will advise the bureau if they see evidence of terrorist activity. The FBI is also urging Iraqis in the U.S. to call the bureau if they are in touch with friends and relatives back home who want to defect and are influential Iraqi military officers or have valuable intelligence to offer. Agents are also working stealthily, tracking down Iraqi nationals who have overstayed their visas and recruiting paid informants willing to infiltrate potentially violent groups.

FBI officials have no knowledge of any sleeper cells in the U.S. that have been positioned by Saddam to act when the war starts. But they cannot be certain that one hasn't slipped under the radar. Nor have agents located another Al Qaeda operational team on the model of the 19 hijackers. But some individual Al Qaeda followers have been identified and are being covertly monitored for signs that they are coalescing to mount a strike.

To assure adroit handling of burgeoning intelligence reports, FBI officials have set up a new "counter-terror watch" desk, staffed around the clock, to assess and disseminate leads and threats faster and more adroitly to field agents and state and local authorities. Until now, few of these threats have been linked with Saddam Hussein. And since he is a secularist, some feel he may have less support among potential terrorists in the radical Muslim community. "But on the other side of the equation," says a senior counter-terror agent, "you will get a number of people who see the war against Iraq as a Western attack against Islam. A number of jihadis will say, 'That's good enough for me."