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U.S. Won’t Confirm Reports of New Abu Nidal Base in Libya

State Department sources would not confirm a newspaper report Tuesday that U.S. intelligence sources have identified a new Abu Nidal terrorist training base near the Libyan chemical plant at Rabta.

“It’s news to me,” one source said when asked about the base, whose discovery was disclosed by The Washington Times.

The paper said U.S. intelligence sources do not believe there is a direct link between the terrorist training school and the chemical plant, which the United States alleges was built to produce poison gas. The Libyans say the plant manufactures pharmaceuticals.

State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler was not asked about the story at Tuesday’s daily briefing, but guidance on the report that was prepared for her briefing said the department does not comment on stories quoting intelligence sources, department sources said.

The guidance also criticized Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for allowing the Abu Nidal organization to be based in his country since 1987, when the radical group was expelled from Syria, the sources said.

Gadhafi’s support for Abu Nidal shows that Libya continues to support international terrorism, the statement concluded.

U.S. officials are concerned that “chemical weapons produced at the chemical plant, which has not entered full-scale production, could be transferred to terrorists,” the Times said.

The State Department source said, “That is always a worry with Gadhafi, because he always transfers everything else to terrorists.” The source said Libya aids other terrorist groups, such as the Irish Republican Army.

Small quantities of the chemical agent used to produce mustard gas have been manufactured at the plant, the Times said.

The State Department source confirmed that Libya has “had some test runs,” but could not confirm suggestions by U.S. intelligence sources to the Times that “chemicals needed to produce the lethal nerve gas Sarin GB also have been manufactured at the plant.”

“Once in the bloodstream, Sarin kills its victims by attacking the central nervous system,” the Times said. When fully operational, the plant could produce as much as 40 tons of chemical arms daily, U.S. sources told the Times.

DETECTED BY SATELLITE PHOTOS

The desert camp, capable of lodging up to 500 people, was detected earlier this month through intelligence reports and photo-reconnaissance satellites, according to the Times. The United States has been continuously monitoring the Rabta plant and the area surrounding it, the paper said.

“An obstacle course, firearms range and a pit used to test explosives were also seen at the camp,” the paper quoted U.S. officials as saying. It is among “several terrorist training camps located in northern Libya near the Mediterranean coast,” the Times said.

U.S. officials identified it as an Abu Nidal training base because of its “training methods and weapons,” which have been previously associated with the group.

The Abu Nidal organization split from the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1974, according to the State Department’s 1988 report on “Patterns of Global Terrorism.”

Among the major attacks perpetrated by the Abu Nidal group are the May 1988 detonation of a car bomb in Nicosia, Cyprus, which killed three and injured 17; a June 1982 attempt to assassinate the Israeli ambassador to Great Britain, Shlomo Argov; an August 1981 attack on a Vienna synagogue, which killed two and wounded 17.

The United States is engaged in a “diplomatic offensive” worldwide to persuade countries not to provide technology or personnel to Libya for developing chemical weapons, the State Department source said.

“So far it has been fairly successful,” the source said, “in convincing some countries to crack down more on private companies” that supply such aid to Libya.

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