- NEW YORK: At this moment, militant Islamic groups labeled by the State
Department as terrorist organizations -- Hezbollah, Palestine Islamic Jihad,
Hamas and others -- operate quietly within U.S. borders from New York to
- These groups collect U.S. dollars to
send to their cells overseas. They have used U.S. addresses to buy U.S.
equipment, U.S. Internet sites to communicate and U.S. universities and
foundations to meet and plan.
- ``Almost every one of these groups has
a presence in the United States today,'' says John O'Neill, who headed
the FBI's counterterrorism unit until last year and now heads those efforts
for the FBI in New York. ``A lot of these groups now have the capability
and the support infrastructure in the United States to attack us here if
they choose to.''
- The United States -- seen as the Great
Satan by many Islamic radicals -- has become a key part of their terrorist
- Bitter Middle East rivalries of Sunni
vs. Shiite and Iranians vs. Arabs have eased into America's melting pot.
And from this melding arises a web of shifting alliances, faceless killers,
money men and transient bases.
- The issue is a difficult one for law
enforcement officials and lawmakers. Nearly all of this nation's estimated
6 million Muslims are law-abiding citizens, many seeking the American Dream.
- ``There are fanatics in every religion
and as long as they do not carry their fanaticism to a terrorist act, there
is nothing wrong in their beliefs,'' says Seif Ashmawy, the Egyptian-American
publisher of the Voice of Peace, a monthly publication on Muslim issues.
- ``But there is a very small minority
that wish to impose their ideas by force. Those are the people we should
- Death from a light bulb
- Take this scenario:
- A Hezbollah terrorist tapes a light bulb
to the track of a New York City subway station. Minutes later, a passing
train smashes the bulb, releasing spores of anthrax, one of the deadliest
toxins known to humanity.
- Within hours, subway ventilation fans
have circulated the poison throughout the system, and people begin dying
-- perhaps 100,000, perhaps more.
- ``The death toll would be horrific. You
could cripple the country,'' says Pentagon analyst Peter Probst, whose
classified report Terror 2000 identifies this and similar scenarios. ``And
you can't bury the victims. You have to burn them. There would be funeral
pyres throughout the city.''
- A terrorist attack with anthrax -- or
Sarin gas, or a World Trade Center-style bomb ``dirtied'' with enough nuclear
material to make parts of the city uninhabitable -- is almost inevitable,
a 1996 Senate report warned.
- Defense Secretary William Cohen said
much the same at a conference on terrorism last month.
- ``This scenario of a nuclear, biological
or chemical weapon in the hands of a terrorist cell or rogue nation is
not only plausible, it's really quite real,'' he warned.
- The United States already has seen such
work -- the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six and injured
1,000. The group included Islamic radicals from Palestine, Sudan and Egypt
as well as U.S. converts.
- The same group had planned to bomb other
New York City landmarks. The man accused of building the bomb, the mysterious
Ramzi Yousef, plotted to blow up a dozen U.S. airliners in a single day
-- and practiced in the Philippines with a nitroglycerine charge that killed
an airline passenger.
- In Saudi Arabia, the FBI is still trying
to unravel the possible alliance of Iran, Shiite Hezbollah, militant Sunni
radicals and the world's leading financier of terror, Osama bin Laden,
in two bombings that killed 24 U.S. soldiers and two Indians.
- Here in the United States, authorities
fret about ``sleeper cells'' of Hezbollah terrorists awaiting orders from
Tehran, or zealots acting on the influence of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman,
the blind Egyptian cleric and religious leader to World Trade Center conspirators.
- Rahman still exhorts followers -- now
from a federal prison.
- And the election Friday of relatively
moderate Mohammad Khatami as Iran's president might not lead to any immediate
change of posture toward the United States.
- U.S.-based Hamas activists arrested in
Israel told their interrogators they had shadowed prominent Jews in the
- Such terrorists ``are expanding their
networks, improving their skills and sophistication, and working to stage
more spectacular attacks,'' warns acting CIA Director George Tenet.
- To stage attacks in the United States
and elsewhere, Islamic extremists are making full use of U.S. banks, telecommunications
and freedom of assembly.
- Cash frozen
- In January 1995, President Clinton froze
$800,000 held in accounts the government said were controlled by terrorist
groups. Most experts believe that is only a drop in the bucket.
- Israel accuses Virginia businessman Mousa
Abu Marzook, whom U.S. authorities expelled to Jordan this month, of financing
Hamas terrorist cells. An FBI agent testified that millions of dollars
passed through Marzook's accounts.
- Coupon and food stamp fraud by a World
Trade Center bomber, the Abu Nidal group and others allegedly sent as much
as $100 million to the Middle East. Heroin trafficking in the United States
has partly financed the world's deadliest terrorist group, the Kurdistan
Workers Party, or PKK.
- A network of U.S.-based Islamic foundations
is under investigation by the U.S. Customs Service to determine if they
passed money to Middle East terrorists.
- A top FBI official says a San Diego-based
World Wide Web site called the Islam Report provided a clearinghouse for
terrorist communiques, including those of militants in Algeria, where 60,000
people have died in terror strikes and military responses.
- A Texas foundation called the Islamic
Association for Palestine has used university Web sites to issue Hamas
communiques and solicit funds.
- Information on building weapons of mass
destruction -- nuclear, chemical and biological-- is now routinely passed
through the Internet, Defense Secretary Cohen noted at last month's terrorism
- In the late 1980s and early '90s, some
of the world's leading Islamic militants met openly -- and legally -- at
conferences across the United States. In Chicago, Phoenix and Kansas City,
representatives of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the rogue Islamic government
of the Sudan spoke to the faithful and called for a Jihad, or Holy War,
against enemies of Islam, says Steve Emerson, producer of the controversial
1994 Public Broadcasting System documentary Jihad in America.
- The World Trade Center bombing made such
open meetings in the United States more difficult -- but experts say with
modern communications, terrorist summit conferences are largely obsolete
- Despite the threat, there are severe
limitations on what the United States and other governments can do to curb
the activities of Islamic militants at home.
- Demands for action bump up against the
U.S. tradition of providing safe harbor to foreign dissidents, from Mexican
revolutionaries at the turn of the century to today's anti-Castro Cubans.
- What is different about Islamic extremists,
say terror experts, is the radical fringe who consider this country the
Great Satan, an enemy of Islam that must be punished.
- Among the extremists who used the United
States is Abdul Hakim Murad, convicted with Ramzi Yousef in the plot to
bomb a dozen U.S. airliners. Murad attended flight schools here and studied
- When first taken into custody by Philippines
authorities, the Pakistani terrorist was asked what his plans were when
he visited here.
- ``Killing Americans,'' he said. ``This
is my . . . the best thing. I enjoy it.''