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Terror alerts sweep globe
May 17, 2003 01:49 IST
Terror alerts spread around the world on Friday amid suspicions of fresh Al Qaeda operations, but countries with tourist hotspots accused Britain of overreacting and the United States of being 'afraid of its own shadow'.
The alerts followed suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia on Monday that killed 34 people, including eight Americans. Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda was blamed.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad mocked the US for issuing travel warnings, including advice to its citizens not to visit his country.
"This is because they felt guilty, as they have committed all sorts of actions like killing and oppressing others, and as such they're afraid of their own shadow," the state-run Bernama news agency quoted Mahathir as saying.
But a senior official in Pakistan, hit by multiple bombings at Western-branded petrol stations in Karachi on Thursday, said recent attacks might be linked.
"We have got clues. We suspect there could be a connection between the Karachi attacks and the terrorist strikes in Saudi Arabia," said Aftab Sheikh, head of Karachi's provincial interior ministry.
While the Pakistan attacks caused only minor injuries, the bombings in Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter that has been a strategic US ally, were the most devastating against US interests since September 11, 2001.
Governments around the world believe the Al Qaeda is planning more assaults.
"It could be a variety of potential targets. It could be a variety of types of attacks," a US official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
British Airways suspended all flights in and out of Kenya on Thursday and the British Foreign Office advised against travelling to the African country unless absolutely necessary.
Earlier this week, the Kenyan government released details of Al Qaeda suspect Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who is accused of masterminding a 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, in which 214 people died, and last November's suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in the Kenyan resort of Mombassa.
Kenya said he had been sighted in Somalia and could be operating within Kenyan borders. The US also warned its citizens of a 'credible threat' of attacks in the region.
But Nairobi said the British travel ban was an overreaction that played into the hands of militants. The National Security Ministry said heightened security in Kenya was only a precaution in view of recent threats and attacks worldwide.
Hunt for Bombing Masterminds
As Saudi and US agents hunted for the masterminds of the attacks in Riyadh, the US State Department and US officials in Saudi Arabia said they received intelligence of a possible attack on foreign residential compounds in Jeddah, close to the US consulate and King Fahd's summer palace.
Lebanon said it had smashed a plot to attack the US embassy in Beirut.
Australia and New Zealand warned their nationals to be on their guard in Southeast Asia, a region still haunted by last year's Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people. The Jemaah Islamiah, a radical Muslim group linked to the Al Qaeda, was blamed.
The Australian foreign office said Australians should be extremely cautious in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, East Timor and Brunei.
"We continue to receive reports that terrorist elements in the region are planning attacks," it said.
In a sign of the extent of US fears, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that the US plans to make face-to-face interviews standard for most of the millions of people who request a visa to visit the country every year.