Friday, September 12, 2003

U.S. military forces in northern Iraq captured 80 foreign fighters from several Arab countries on suspicion that they are part of a new al Qaeda offensive against American troops, officials said yesterday.

Pentagon officials said the suspected terrorists were nabbed by the Army's 101st Airborne Division and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment between Mosul and the Syrian border.

Military officials said the foreign fighters came from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Sudan and Syria, and were carrying machine guns and rifles, as well as $75,000 in Iraqi dinars.

U.S. officials suspect they are part of a growing al Qaeda foreign legion whose members are being recruited at mosques and over the Internet throughout the world to undermine U.S. rebuilding efforts and drive coalition forces out of Iraq...

The terrorists captured over the last 24 hours are believed to have recently entered Iraq through Syria.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday said the U.S. has repeatedly asked the Syrian government to seal its borders.

"We have made clear all along that the presence of foreign fighters in Iraq was dangerous, that the ability of people to get across borders, whether with or without the consent of government, was one of the problems and a problem we wanted to deal with," Boucher said.

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