Evidence shows Latin America as terror target
Al-Qaida-linked figures may be in the region.
MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) -- Governments throughout Mexico and Central America are on alert as evidence grows that Al-Qaida members are traveling in the region and looking for recruits to carry out attacks in Latin America -- the potential last frontier for international terrorism.
The territory could be a perfect staging ground for Osama bin Laden's militants, with home-grown rebel groups, drug and people smugglers, and corrupt governments. U.S. officials have long feared Al-Qaida could launch an attack from south of the border, and they have been paying closer attention as the number of terror-related incidents has increased since last year.
The strongest possible Al-Qaida link is Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, a 29-year-old Saudi pilot suspected of being a terrorist cell leader.
The FBI issued a border-wide alert earlier this month for Shukrijumah, saying he may try to cross into Arizona or Texas.
In June, Honduran officials said Shukrijumah was spotted earlier this year at an Internet cafe in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras.
Panamanian officials say the pilot and alleged bomb-maker passed through their country before the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft singled out Shukrijumah in May as one of seven especially dangerous Al-Qaida-linked terror figures wanted by the government, which fears a new Al-Qaida attack. A $5 million reward is posted for information leading to his capture.
Mexican and U.S. border officials have been on extra alert, checking foreign passports and arresting any illegal migrants.
In a sign of a growing Mexican crackdown, eight people from Armenia, Iran and Iraq were arrested Thursday in Mexicali on charges they may have entered Mexico with false documents, although they did not appear to have any terrorist ties.
Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, Mexico's top anti-crime prosecutor, said Mexican officials have no evidence that Shukrijumah -- or any other Al-Qaida operatives -- are in Mexico.
But Mexican authorities are investigating and keeping a close eye on the airports and borders.
"The alert has been sounded," Vasconcelos told The Associated Press last month.
Central America attacks
In Central America, Honduran Security Minister Oscar Alvarez said officials have uncovered evidence that terrorists, likely from Al-Qaida, may be trying to recruit Hondurans to carry out attacks in Central America. He did not offer details.
Last week, El Salvador authorities reinforced security at the country's international airport and along the borders after purported Al-Qaida threats appeared on the Internet against their country for supporting the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
President Tony Saca, undeterred, is sending the country's third peacekeeping unit -- 380 troops -- to Iraq.
Terrorists have struck in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the United States. Latin America could be next, analysts say, especially as it becomes harder to operate elsewhere.
Officials worry the Panama Canal could be a likely target. In 2003, boats making more than 13,000 trips through the waterway carried about 188 million tons of cargo.
Earlier this month, the United States and seven Latin American countries -- including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Peru and Panama -- carried out a weeklong anti-terror exercise aimed at protecting the canal.
In South America, U.S. officials have long suspected Paraguay's border with Brazil and Argentina as an area for Islamic terrorist fund raising.
Much of the focus has fallen on the Muslim community that sprouted during the 1970s, and authorities believe as much as $100 million a year flows out of the region, with large portions diverted to Islamic militants linked to Hezbollah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
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