A very nervous world out there

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Security Scares Fray Nerves as U.S. Girds for War

September 17, 2001 5:59 am EST

By Isabel Reynolds TOKYO (Reuters) - Worries of planned follow-up strikes against U.S. targets intensified on Monday with security scares in Asia keeping already frayed nerves on edge almost a week after the terror attacks in New York and Washington.

And as reports came in that tens of thousands of Afghans were heading for the borders with Iran and Pakistan, fearing U.S. military retaliation, the crisis looked set to worsen.

Multinational companies have already started evacuating their staff from the region and Britain on Monday urged its nationals to stay away from Pakistan as pressure grew on neighboring Afghanistan.

"We advise against foreign travel to Pakistan until further notice unless there are compelling reasons to do so," the Foreign Office said in a travel advice bulletin.

India said that its troops had stepped up their vigil on the Pakistan border after reports that Islamabad had closed militant training camps, prompting fears that militants could be flushed into Indian-controlled Kashmir. FIND THE COMPUTER THAT'S RIGHT FOR YOU All Brands

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In the Chinese territory of Macao, heavily armed security forces swooped on the central casino district and other locations to arrest seven Pakistani nationals after finding documents apparently containing instructions to attack U.S. targets there and in Hong Kong if there were a strike on Afghanistan.

A bomb detection robot was used to open several suitcases and travel bags, a government source said.

The government later played down any link with last week's terror attacks, but the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong said it was closing indefinitely to assess its security and television reports said three U.S. officials went to the Macau police station where the men were held.

The Macau government source said the men were arrested after U.S. authorities provided names to security forces in Macau and Hong Kong of people to watch for following the U.S. attacks.

"According to preliminary investigations, the documents seized appear to contain instructions to attack American targets in Hong Kong and Macau in the case of an American attack on Afghanistan," the source said.

But a Macau government spokeswoman said later the seven had overstayed their visas and were suspected of robbery and Proenca Branco, head of Macau's police force, told reporters the arrested men had nothing to do with last week's attacks.


The arrests fanned fears that further terror strikes may be planned on U.S. interests and could be put into effect if, as expected, Washington launches some kind of action against Afghanistan, where Saudi-born exile Osama bin Laden is thought to be. The U.S. government has named bin Laden as a prime suspect in the attacks.

Air traffic in and out of the United States picked up over the weekend and passenger flights were given permission to carry freight again late on Sunday for the first time since last Tuesday's attack.

Even as life slowly returned to normal in the United States, a Newsweek poll found that 82 percent of Americans believe it is very likely or somewhat likely that more attacks will be carried out against major U.S. cities or landmarks in the near future.

U.S. allies are also nervous.

In Japan, home to some 48,000 U.S. troops, domestic media said on Monday that followers of bin Laden may have entered the country earlier this month.

Kyodo news agency and other media reported that a foreign intelligence agency had notified Tokyo that 12 foreigners believed to be followers of bin Laden may have entered Japan prior to the attacks in the United States last week.

Kyodo said the National Police Agency had instructed police forces to investigate, while immigration officials were checking arrival and departure records.

Top government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda declined to comment specifically, but said: "We get unconfirmed intelligence reports from time to time and we check for their credibility."

Police have already increased security around U.S. military facilities in Japan after U.S. President George Bush vowed military retaliation for the attacks, the agency said.

Just days before the attacks in the United States, the State Department issued a warning to U.S. citizens in Japan and South Korea, saying it had received information about a possible attack on U.S. facilities or personnel in the two countries.


In the Philippines, another key U.S. ally, a captured Philippines Muslim rebel leader has named bin Laden as a financier of his group, the military said on Monday.

Jimmy Then admitted to bin Laden's alleged tie-up with the Muslim fundamentalist Abu Sayyaf group during interrogation after his capture on Saturday on the southern island of Basilan, a military statement said.

In the wake of the attacks on the U.S., fear of revenge has spread beyond Muslim communities.

In the United States, a suburban Phoenix man was charged on Sunday with murdering an Indian Sikh immigrant outside his gas station in an incident that drew concern in India that it might have been sparked by anger over the attacks.

Several Sikhs have been attacked in the United States since last Tuesday's attacks.

"We are in touch with the U.S. authorities. We are concerned about these attacks. The federal and local authorities in the U.S. have assured us of full cooperation," Indian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao told Reuters in New Delhi.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), September 17, 2001

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