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U.S. officials see gathering threat of terror attacks on Gulf bases

WASHINGTON—Concern is mounting among U.S. intelligence officials and diplomats that al-Qaida-related groups may be preparing terrorist attacks on Persian Gulf bases that support American military forces operating in Iraq.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said unknown individuals have been conducting surveillance of U.S. military and diplomatic facilities in Qatar, the Persian Gulf state that houses the forward headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In nearby Kuwait, meanwhile, government security forces engaged in deadly clashes Monday with armed militants, the second such incident in two days and the fourth in January. On Friday, the State Department issued a travel advisory for U.S. citizens in Kuwait, warning that terrorists might try to attack housing complexes used by Westerners.

Increased security at official U.S. government installations might force would-be terrorists to seek "softer" targets, such as public transportation, residential areas and restaurants, the advisory said.

No similar travel advisory has been issued for Qatar, but military facilities have been on high alert there for some time. Spokespeople for the Kuwaiti and Qatari embassies in Washington weren't immediately available for comment.

U.S. officials wouldn't discuss the concerns on the record, citing the sensitivity of the issue. They said intelligence suggesting a possible attack, while thought credible, doesn't point to a specific time or place for an attack, they said.

Intelligence on terrorist threats isn't always followed by an attack. In November, for example, the State Department warned of a possible attack on hotels in Qatar's capital, Doha, but later rescinded the warning.

Suspicious activity around U.S. facilities in Qatar has been going on for more than a year. One Pentagon official said no increased activity had been detected, though others said recent intelligence had raised the level of alarm.

From the viewpoint of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and its various affiliates, an attack on U.S. Persian Gulf military bases could destabilize Gulf states that cooperate with the United States and underscore many Arabs' opposition to the U.S. military presence in the region.

It would also likely drive up world oil prices.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, al-Qaida has increasingly turned its attention to undermining the government of oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which it views as an apostate regime.

In Kuwait, the Kuwaiti monarchy, a close U.S. ally, has proposed special security measures to deal with an upsurge in Islamic extremism. According to news reports from the region, security forces on Monday raided an apartment in a suburb of Kuwait City, arresting six militants, one of whom died in custody, and killing four others.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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