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Terror attacks may escalate with war

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Attorney General John Ashcroft: Terrorists will
Attorney General John Ashcroft: Terrorists will "strike us anytime they feel they have the capacity."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A U.S. assault on Iraq could bring with it numerous terrorism threats in the United States and abroad, officials said.

These may include attacks on U.S. troops and military facilities in the Middle East and attacks on civilians in the United States, according to U.S. counter-terrorism officials.

In fact, those experts say there's at least a 75 percent chance of an attack against Americans at home or abroad if there is war.

John Parachini, a bioterrorism expert with Rand Corp., agrees.

"If hostilities are initiated with Iraq, I think it's highly likely that there will be an increased number of terrorist events around the world," Parachini said.

Because of the government fear of Iraqi-sponsored terrorism, sources say there are a number of Iraqi nationals and former intelligence officials in the United States who are under surveillance at all times.

That number is a small percentage of the hundred or so people in the United States who are being constantly watched and are suspected of some involvement with al Qaeda or other terror groups.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said the nation should remain alert.

"It's clear to me that terrorists seize opportunities and they'll strike us any time they feel like they have the capacity of striking us," Ashcroft said.

Despite the recent arrest of senior al Qaeda operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, officials say the group still poses a serious threat.

Mohammed was captured in early March with his laptop computer, cell phones, notebooks and an address book, officials said.

Recent audiotaped statements believed to be from Osama bin Laden point to more terror attacks.

"We stress the importance of martyrdom operations against the enemy," the recording said.

Recently gathered evidence suggests al Qaeda still has a strong interest in hitting apartment buildings, hotels and bridges, investigators said.

And officials said airlines remain a possible target -- along with ports of entry, symbolic structures and the nation's infrastructure, specifically power and communications grids and water systems.

John Pistole, an FBI counterterrorism official, said another attack is almost inevitable.

"I believe that we in the U.S. will be hit with another terrorist attack, whether it's a 'spectacular attack' like 9/11, I hope and pray not, but I think that it is something that we will experience whether it's a suicide bomber strapped in explosives going on the subway or somebody taking a carload of explosives," Pistole said.

Those smaller attacks are often carried out by lone extremists and are not only hard to predict, officials said, but nearly impossible to prevent.


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