WASHINGTON — Six Iraqis in two foreign countries have been arrested in the midst of planning terrorist attacks on U.S. interests, Fox News learned Friday.
The plots have been foiled and the terrorist material, i.e. explosives, were confiscated, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said.
"The planned attacks were not successful," Boucher said, adding that many Iraqi intelligence service members abroad continue to be a threat.
"Officers in the Iraqi intelligence service remain a threat because of their history of support for terrorism. The U.S. will continue to monitor this situation and will work with partners and allies to ensure the safety of American citizens and our facilities overseas," he said.
In one country, four people were arrested and in the other country, two were arrested. One of the six arrests was yesterday; the others were spread out over the "last few days." The arrests were carried out by local law-enforcement authorities, not Americans.
The individuals, identified as members of the Iraqi Intelligence Service operating under diplomatic cover, were said to still be in the planning stages of attack. According to officials, if executed, the attacks would have caused "serious damage."
In one country, which officials decline to name for fear that they would tip off Iraqi agents under investigation in other cases, Iraqi terrorists had been planning to hit a U.S. embassy. In another country, the Iraqis had not identified a final target, but among its target set were private, non-governmental organizations.
Sources told Fox News that U.S. intelligence officials are "pretty damn certain" that the agents were working directly for Saddam Hussein since they were Iraqi nationals operating with diplomatic cover. They said in some cases, the Iraqi intelligence agents were primary over the Iraqi ambassadors stationed in those countries.
"They outranked their ambassador, in effect," one official said.
The United States has asked a number of countries to expel suspected Iraqi intelligence officers based on "the significant threat posed by their presence," Boucher said.
To date, the United States has asked 45 countries to expel suspected Iraqi agents. So far, 17 countries have complied. By comparison, 19 countries expelled Iraqi diplomats during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Last week, three Iraqi diplomats stationed in Washington, D.C., were expelled from the country.
Last month, officials in the Philippines expelled an Iraqi consul, Husham Husain, over suspicion of links with Filipino Muslim extremists.
The Philippines, one of Washington's staunchest Asian allies in the global war on terrorism, has increasingly been sensitive to possible security threats, especially after it joined last week the coalition of countries backing Washington's military action against Iraq.
And this week, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the expulsion of an Iraqi diplomat and another Iraqi Embassy staffer in accord with the U.S. request.
She said there was "some evidence of espionage" against the two.
All the countries that have or had Iraqi diplomats have been informed of the latest information, an official said.