Image: 030916UNbombing_hup.jpg
The bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad is thought to be the work of Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group U.S. officials say has connections in the United States, NBC News has learned.
By
NBC News
updated 9/16/2003 12:49:34 PM ET 2003-09-16T16:49:34

A dangerous terrorist group that was thought to exist only in Iraq is trying to make inroads in the United States, with a presence in some American cities, top U.S. law enforcement officials have told NBC News.

WHEN A MASSIVE truck bomb destroyed the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad last month, the U.S. military quickly named a prime suspect: Ansar-al-Islam — a terrorist group whose base in northern Iraq was bombed by the United States this spring.

Ansar used to be a small, mostly Kurdish terror group, operating almost exclusively in Iraq. But in the last few months, experts say foreign Islamic fighters have flocked to its side.

And now, senior U.S. officials tell NBC News, the group has expanded its reach — to America.

“We do have an Ansar-al-Islam presence here in the United States,” said Pat D’Amuro, FBI assistant director and one of the agency’s top counterterrorism officials. “There’s enough intelligence information that we know that gives us great concern.”

SIX CITIES BEING WATCHED

Senior U.S. officials tell NBC News that Ansar followers are under investigation in at least a half-dozen American cities — including New York, San Diego and Los Angeles.

So far, law enforcement sources say there’s no evidence Ansar is planning an attack in the United States. But they worry that, beyond recruiting and fund raising, some Ansar supporters may be casing potential targets.

NBC News has learned that the United States recently pressed Norway to move against one man, Mullah Krekar, for his past role as Ansar’s spiritual leader.

Krekar said he is no longer involved with the organization. But in a March 2003 video from Insight News, he praised suicide attacks

“It is very well,” Krekar said in the video. “It is very good. It is very, very useful for enemy.”

While there is ongoing debate about Ansar’s strength and connections, some argue it should not be underestimated.

“These members can be activated to perpetrate an atrocity within the USA or Europe,” said M.J. Gohel, a terrorism expert.

The FBI is focusing on cities with large Kurdish populations. But given recent events in Iraq, officials say Ansar may well include Islamic extremists of any nationality.

Lisa Myers is NBC News’ senior investigative correspondent.

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