Terrorism's Sponsors Aim at Mideast, US

IRAN has been funneling up to $100 million a year to radical Islamic groups to strike its foes, including the United States, and sabotage the Arab-Israeli peace process. Tehran has also given these radical groups weapons and explosives and provided military training, some of it in Iran itself.

So say US intelligence officials, who stepped up their criticism of the Iranian regime in an unusually candid recent briefing for reporters. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officials said the Iran-backed groups include Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. These are the strongest of the Palestinian organizations that have been staging suicide bombings and other attacks against Israeli targets in a bid to derail the 1993 accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization over Palestinian autonomy.

''Iran has tried to galvanize the 'rejectionist' groups into a coordinated effort to undermine the peace process,'' said one official. ''We've been seeing an intensified effort by Iran to support these groups.'' Said another official: ''I think you could describe it as a full-court press against the Arab-Israeli peace process.''

The officials said that Iran is also funding Hizbullah, the Beirut-based Islamic extremist militia blamed for rocketing northern Israel from southern Lebanon and bombing US and Jewish targets.

Hizbullah, which means Party of God, frequently clashes with Israeli troops and the Israeli-backed Lebanese militia deployed in the self-declared security zone that Israel created just inside southern Lebanon.

The officials said that Hizbullah was most likely responsible for the truck bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires last year that killed almost 100 people.

Intelligence officials also made these general points about international terrorism:

*Sudan plays a key role in Iran's contacts with Islamic extremists, said one official.

''Because Sudan has been willing to provide safe havens to ... Islamic and secular groups, Iran has seen Sudan as a very attractive place to meet with these groups,'' he said. Sudan's willingness to harbor international terrorists is the main reason it is on the State Department list of terrorism sponsors, the officials said.

*Over the last year, Libya has also stepped up support for radical Palestinian groups opposed to the Arab-Israeli peace process, the officials said.

Representatives of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command ''have all made trips to Libya'' to seek help from Libyan leader Muammar Qadaffi, said one official. He added: ''We believe they have gotten support.''

Mr. Qadaffi, however, has refrained from sponsoring attacks on Western targets since the 1991 imposition of United Nations sanctions on Libya for refusing to surrender two men suspected of planting a bomb that blew up a Pan Am flight over Scotland in 1988, the officials said.

*Intelligence officials say there is no firm evidence that international terrorists are seeking chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. This, however, remains the over-arching reason for heightened vigilance.

''We have to worry more and more about the transnational reach of these groups,'' said an intelligence official. ''The anti-American strain runs so strongly through all of the groups we are talking about.''

In the 1970s and 1980s, most international terrorist operations were aimed at coercing governments into releasing jailed radicals, paying ransoms or publicizing the perpetrators' political ideologies. But that has now changed.

''We see relatively less of that [and] relatively more of inflicting pain for pain's sake,'' the intelligence official said. ''No bargaining, no negotiations.''

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