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Suicide bombers pose increasing danger, former federal official says

TIFFIN - Americans and countries allied with the United States need to step up efforts to prevent suicide bombings, which are becoming terrorists' favorite way of spreading death and destruction, the recently retired head of the National Counterterrorism Center told a Tiffin audience yesterday.

John Brennan, who served as the acting director of the federal agency from October, 2004, to August, 2005, said the development of belts and vests with explosives built into them makes it increasingly difficult to halt such attacks.

"The tried-and-true-method, which is to go into a hall like this wearing a suicide bomb, seems to be the method of choice," Mr. Brennan told an audience of about 80 people at the Camden Falls Banquet Hall. "Suicide attacks are going to be something that we're increasingly seeing."

Mr. Brennan, 50, who retired Nov. 2 after spending 25 years in various intelligence and diplomatic posts with the U.S. government, spoke yesterday as part of Tiffin University's "Good Morning World" breakfast series.

The Internet and other technological advances have made it easier for terrorists to carry out such attacks and recruit operatives, Mr. Brennan said. Islamic extremists can communicate with each other from overseas outposts and use media outlets to spread images of death and destruction worldwide within minutes of an attack.

"Somebody in the most remote places can find a satellite hookup and communicate with people back in the United States," Mr. Brennan said. "The Internet has now become a new training ground for terrorists."

Muslim anger over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and resentment against repressive Arab governments - some of which enjoy close U.S. ties - have helped al-Qaeda and other terror groups recruit members, Mr. Brennan said. So has the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, he added.

"We're finding increasing Islamic extremism and a desire to push back against the United States," Mr. Brennan asserted, citing last week's suicide bombing of three hotels in Amman, Jordan. He said the blasts, which killed 57 people, were meant to punish King Abdullah II for his support of the United States.

To combat terror attacks, the United States needs to counter what Mr. Brennan said is a false perception that this country opposes Muslim interests. While acknowledging that the U.S. troop presence in Iraq has attracted terrorists from other countries to join the stubborn Sunni insurgency there, Mr. Brennan said pulling out American forces isn't the answer.

"Clearly it has not gone as quickly as we wanted," Mr. Brennan emphasized in an interview later. "I certainly don't believe the answer to this is to withdraw U.S. forces, because Iraqi society would dissolve into chaos."

Mr. Brennan also defended the Patriot Act, which Congress is considering for renewal before parts of it expire Dec. 31. The law, passed after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, allows crucial sharing of intelligence and law enforcement information among federal agencies, he said.

"There are a lot of things about the Patriot Act that are vital ... and they are done in a way that doesn't infringe upon the rights of U.S. citizens," he said.

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.

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