US officials downplay terror risk from Libya, but FBI questions Libyans in US

After the smoke of the initial involvement of US forces in Libya settled, media attention turned to the possibility of Libyan terror attacks on Western targets, citing a potential backlash for the West’s support of the fledgling rebel forces in their fight to oust Gadhafi.

US officials noted Gadhafi’s “documented history of orchestrating strikes against civilians and other world leaders” and went on to say that they are keeping their eye on the possibility of such a backlash, but admitted that the probability of a Gadhafi-endorsed attack on the West was low. Other counterterrorism officials commented to ABC News that they had not seen any intelligence indicating any plots:

Concern over a possible terrorist attack directed by Gadhafi was raised Friday when White House terrorism advisor John Brennan told reporters the Libyan leader “has the penchant to do things of a very concerning nature.”

“I think clearly from what we’ve seen he’s got intent, but the second piece is capability,” former senior U.S. intelligence official Phil Mudd told ABC News. “He’s been out of this business a long time so whether he’s retained the capability is an open question. Whether he can resuscitate it, I think, is an even bigger question.”

The article goes on to mention Gadhafi’s involvement in the 1988 Pan Am flight 103 bombing that killed 189 Americans, and also the bombing of a German disco that left two Americans dead.

But just yesterday, FBI Director Robert Mueller said that the Bureau had begun questioning Libyans living in the United States to “identify Libyan agents operating inside US borders.” Mueller also said the move is intended to put the US “on guard” against any potential terror attacks from Libya.

“We want to make certain that we are on guard for the possibility of terrorist attacks emanating somewhere out of Libya,” said Mueller, appearing before the House Appropriations Committee, “whether it be Gadhafi’s forces or, in eastern Libya, the opposition forces who may have amongst them persons who in the past have had associations with terrorist groups.”

According to sources close to the intelligence-gathering operation, interviews began this week and could result in thousands more to come. The FBI will be focusing on Libyans staying in the US on visas and those with professional or personal ties to their home country. In addition to gauging the potential threat posed to Americans, the FBI aims to gather information that could assist those engaged in military action in Libya.

An FBI operation this broad indicates that the US expects a Libyan-exported terror plot on Western targets to be a possibility despite downplaying the threat just weeks ago.

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