Radicals seek to spread `terror empire’, 10 Al Qaeda plots foiled, Bush says

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. Bush sought Thursday to revive waning public support for the war in Iraq, accusing militants of seeking to establish a “radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia” with Iraq serving as the main front.

Radicals are being sheltered by “allies of convenience like Syria and Iran,” Bush declared in a speech before the National Endowment for Democracy.

He said the United States and its allies had foiled at least 10 plots by Al Qaeda terror network in the four years since the Sept. 11 terror attacks — three of them in the United States — and he warned other nations not to support or harbour groups with Al Qaeda ties.

Polls show declining American support for the war that has thus far claimed more than 1,940 members of the US military. Bush’s policy faces a crucial test in Iraq’s October 15 referendum on a new constitution, a vote that Bush has said terrorists will try to derail.

In remarks clearly aimed at those seeking a withdrawal of US troops, Bush said: “There’s always a temptation in the middle of a long struggle to seek the quiet life, to escape the duties and problems of the world and to hope the enemy grows weary of fanaticism and tired of murder.” “We will keep our nerve and we will win that victory,” he said.

Asked about the president’s singling out of Iran and Syria as “allies of convenience,” White House Spokesman Scott McClellan said. “They continue to move in the wrong direction.” Likewise, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in London that explosive devices that have killed US-led troops were similar to those used by the Iranian-linked group Hizbollah.

“There is no justification for Iran or any other country interfering in Iraq,” Blair said at a news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Iran’s ambassador in London, Seyed Mohammad Hossein Adeli, said the charges were not supported by evidence and “we are against any kind of action which might jeopardise or destroy the stabilisation process of Iraq.”

At the White House, McClellan was asked about Bush’s reference to 10 foiled terror attacks. He said some of the information the president based his remarks on remains classified.

McClellan mentioned the conviction of Iyman Faris, a Columbus, Ohio, truck driver who authorities said plotted attacks on the Brooklyn Bridge and a central Ohio shopping mall. Administration officials have previously claimed success in breaking up terror cells in New York, Oregon, Virginia and Florida.

Sens. Dick Durbin and Jack Reed, both Democrats, challenged Bush’s remarks at a Capitol Hill news conference.

“I believe the president has offered America a false choice, between resolve and retreat,” Durbin said. “The real choice is between a strategy of accountability and more vague generalities. We must move beyond policies of fear to a forceful commitment to protect the United States and its values.” Bush said extremists hope to use “the vacuum created by an American retreat” to gain control of Iraq and use it as a base for launching attacks against other countries.

“The murderous ideology of the Islamic radicals is the great challenge of our new century,” he said. “Like the ideology of communism, our new enemy teaches that innocent individuals can be sacrificed to serve a political vision.” “The militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region, and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia,” Bush asserted.

“Against such an enemy, there’s only one effective response: We never back down, never give in and never accept anything less than complete victory,” Bush declared.

Sen. Rick Santorum, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said the speech was “one he should’ve made a few years ago. I’m glad he made it now.” “I’ve been saying for a long time the president needs to better define this war,” Santorum said.

Countering claims that the US military presence in Iraq is fuelling radicalism, Bush noted that American troops were not there on September 11, 2001. He said Russia did not support the military action in Iraq, yet a terrorist attack in Beslan, Russia, left more than 300 schoolchildren dead in 2004.

“The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in the war against humanity. And we must recognise Iraq as the central front in our war on terror,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bush allegedly said God told him to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, a new BBC documentary will reveal, according to details released on Thursday.

Bush made the claim when he met Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and then Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath in June 2003, the ministers told the documentary series to be broadcast in Britain later this month. The US leader also told them he had been ordered by God to create a Palestinian state, the ministers said.

Shaath, now the Palestinian information minister, said: “President Bush said to all of us: ‘I’m driven with a mission from God.

“God would tell me, ‘George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan’.”

“And I did, and then God would tell me, ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq…’ And I did.

“‘And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, ‘Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.’ And by God I’m gonna do it’,” said Shaath.

Abbas, who was also at the meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh, recalled how the president told him: “I have a moral and religious obligation.

“So I will get you a Palestinian state.” A BBC spokesman said the content of the programme had been put to the White House but it had refused to comment on a private conversation.

The three-part series, “Elusive Peace: Israel and the Arabs,” charts the attempts to bring peace to the Middle East, from former US president Bill Clinton’s peace talks in 1999-2000 to Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza strip.

The programme speaks to presidents and prime ministers, their generals and ministers, about what happened behind closed doors as the peace talks failed and the Intifada grew.

The series is due to be screened in Britain on October 10, 17 and 24.

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