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    Global Terror Sweep Foils Several Attacks
    Fri Apr 23, 6:04 PM ET Add World - AP to My Yahoo!


    By MATT MOORE, Associated Press Writer

    STOCKHOLM, Sweden - From Amman to Stockholm, police and intelligence agents have in recent weeks foiled attacks plotted by al-Qaida and other terrorist groups against targets around the world: U.S. embassies in the Middle East and Asia. American forces in Iraq (news - web sites). Shopping malls in Manila. And, possibly, a soccer stadium in Manchester.



    The global sweep shows that anti-terror cooperation is spreading, and pressure increasing against Islamic extremists after the March 11 bombings in Madrid.


    In Saudi Arabia, the heart of Islam, security and intelligence forces have been playing a deadly cat-and-mouse game, arresting or killing dozens of suspected al-Qaida militants since suicide attacks killed 51 people in Riyadh last year. Saudi police and security forces also have died.


    Five militants were captured this week after a suicide car bomb strike in the capital, Riyadh, killed five bystanders and injured close to 150, gutting the seven-story General Security building. On Friday, authorities said five terror suspects — two on Saudi Arabia's most-wanted list — were killed in shootouts that spread over two days.


    The explosion came days after Saudi authorities seized three booby-trapped SUVs loaded with more than four tons of explosives, abandoned by militants involved in an April 12 shootout with security forces. Five more cars were seized earlier this week.


    Governments around the world have increased cooperation to disrupt terror attacks in the wake of the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people. Crackdowns also come ahead of such high-profile events as the 2004 European soccer championships, royal weddings in Denmark and Spain next month, and the Olympics in Greece this summer.


    From the militant end, there's no apparent sign of international coordination, although al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) has issued several audio- and videotapes encouraging his followers to strike the West.


    The law enforcement sweeps encompass some places not normally considered hotbeds of Islamic terror activity — such as Sweden.


    "There has been a realization that the support networks — not the operations figures, the people who might do something — are here," said Magnus Norell, a terrorism expert with the Swedish Defense Research Agency. "It's the people who are involved in the financing and, to a small extent, the recruiting and propaganda."


    Swedish authorities arrested four men Monday suspected of helping arrange attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. Intelligence officials in Norway said one 28-year-old suspect lived there until 2002 and had ties to Ansar al-Islam, the Kurdish guerrilla group linked to al-Qaida.


    The arrests surprised many in this placid Scandinavian country, which didn't support the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and has been historically neutral since 1814. But intelligence officials told The Associated Press that Sweden could be an attractive location as a center for terrorist support groups coordinating attacks outside of Europe.


    In Britain, police arrested 10 people in anti-terrorist raids but refused to comment on media reports that the arrests thwarted a suicide attack on targets including the Manchester United soccer stadium. The suspects were of North African and Iraqi-Kurdish origin.


    Dozens of suspected Islamic militants have been picked up for questioning in similar raids in France, Spain and Morocco.


    French anti-terrorism authorities say cooperation has grown lately with other Western nations, particularly the United States.


    The arrest of six Moroccans in France in April — in connection with bombings in Casablanca in 2003 that killed 33 bystanders and 12 bombers — underscores France's cooperation with Morocco.


    Those arrests may also signal a heightened aggressiveness among French authorities in the aftermath of the Madrid bombings.


    France, which endured terrorist bombings in the mid-1980s and 1990s, is regarded as one of the toughest European countries in pursuing radical groups. But its high number of North African immigrants also make France a prime recruiting ground and base for secret cells.





    Suspects nabbed in the April arrests may have ties to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, an alleged al-Qaida-affiliated organization blamed by the Spanish government in the Madrid rail attacks.

    Spain has arrested more than 20 suspects and has issued international warrants for more. At least five prime suspects are believed to have been among seven alleged terrorists who blew themselves up as police moved to arrest them in Madrid on April 3.

    In the Philippines, six suspected members of the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf were arrested in March with about 75 pounds of TNT; Filipino and U.S. intelligence agents struck before they could launch any attack.

    The six allegedly confessed to plotting the bombings of the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Manila, along with shopping malls and oil depots.

    Middle East counterterrorism officials in Jordan told AP that they have worked with U.S., Egyptian, Israeli and Saudi officials to monitor terrorists and arrest them before they can strike.

    On Tuesday, Jordanian police killed four men believed to have links to an al-Qaida cell that plotted simultaneous bombing and chemical attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Amman and other targets.

    Authorities said they disrupted the plot with the arrests of several suspects in two raids in late March and early April.

    One challenge for counterterrorism officials is penetrating large immigrant populations in Europe where militants can blend in, including in France, Britain, and Germany — site of Sept. 11, 2001, planning.

    Immigrant communities are smaller in the Nordic countries, but many abroad think of them as safe havens because of the region's openness to refugees and respect for human rights. Sweden's Muslim population is nearly 300,000 among the country's 9 million residents.

    "As long as someone doesn't do anything while they're here, they're fine," said Norell of the Swedish Defense Research Agency. "It's not illegal to be from another country or on a terror list."

    Indeed, in Stockholm, the capital, the leadership of Indonesia's rebel Aceh group moves about freely. Indonesia has sought their deportation, but Sweden said there's no proof they're guiding the rebel movement from afar.

    ___
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