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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

One country suffered the largest number of terrorist attacks in 2007. It may be no big surprise that that country is Iraq, as named in the State Department's latest report on global terrorism. What may be surprising, though, is what U.S. officials expect to happen next.

A top U.S. counterterrorism official says foreign fighters have come to Iraq and if they survive the battles there, their native countries have to wonder what those fighters will do when they come home. Ambassador Dell Dailey recently visited key nations after the U.S. discovered a mass of computer files inside Iraq last fall.

Ambassador DELL DAILEY: We recovered about 800 files, electronic, of individuals who had entered through Syria en route to Iraq as foreign fighters, predominantly suicide bombers, from the dates of August 2006 until August 2007. These were personnel files of one page each, some with a picture, but then in very, very detailed manner it talked about the individuals - where he was born, what his name is, what his aliases are, what his phone number is, and numerous other very specific and invaluable intelligence and law enforcement data.

INSKEEP: And you said they came to Iraq, they came in through Syria, and what are some of the countries they had originated in?

Mr. DAILEY: There were 22 countries total. The largest was Saudi Arabia at about 300; the next was Libya at about 130. And we actually visited the countries of the leaders - leading countries of numbers and asked for support, number one. And following up on these individuals, taking that address, going to their home, talking with the family and find out when the individual left, has he contacted back. Most importantly, why did the individual leave, and is there a way to try to solve this desire to become a suicide bomber.

INSKEEP: Ambassador, when you talk about the terrorist threat facing the United States and the world, you mentioned that you went to these various countries and said, look, there may come a time when the fighting dies down in Iraq and all these newly-trained veteran fighters are going to come back to their home countries, or might, and pose a danger.

The first thing that comes to my mind is that in the 1980s there was a war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union and a lot of the foreign fighters, you could call them, who engaged in that conflict, of course, went on to cause great damage elsewhere in the world.

Mr. DAILEY: Steve, you're absolutely correct, and that's the theme. And virtually every one of those countries had already realized it.

INSKEEP: So there's a real danger that Iraq could spawn other conflicts elsewhere in the world?

Mr. DAILEY: Oh, I don't think it spawned it all, no. I think what it is, is that those folks will want to go home.

INSKEEP: They can then add to the strength of whatever local group might already be fighting in Algeria or Saudi Arabia or someplace else.

Mr. DAILEY: That's correct. They can add to it.

INSKEEP: Now, this leads to another point that your State Department report on terrorism deals with, and that is groups that may not be precisely part of al-Qaida but they've been working with al-Qaida. How is that danger changing and growing?

Mr. DAILEY: Well, it has taken place, and the best example is the al-Qaida in Islamic Magrab that was previously the GSPC, the Global Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.

INSKEEP: This is where?

Mr. DAILEY: In the North Africa, Algeria area.

INSKEEP: Um-hum.

Mr. DAILEY: This group merged with al-Qaida and they used al-Qaida techniques, which is suicide bombing. And they used al-Qaida targets, which was the U.N. facility in Algiers. And all of a sudden the GSPC, that regional element, was not doing international terrorism on the behest of al-Qaida.

INSKEEP: You've got groups that in a brutally realistic calculus the United States didn't need to care about, they were aiming at the West necessarily, weren't aiming at American targets, and all of a sudden they become a group that could be potentially a danger to the U.S. or its allies.

Mr. DAILEY: That's correct. That's the potential. Al-Qaida can no longer do an international reach. It doesn't have the capability. Its best example was the thwarted effort from Pakistan to U.K. to the United States in '06 that had ten flag carriers that they were going to try and blow up en route to the United States.

INSKEEP: Try to blow up airliners.

Mr. DAILEY: That's right. And it showed that in our perspective al-Qaida no longer has international reach with its action arm. Its only international reach is its propaganda arm, which is their media committee.

INSKEEP: Ambassador Dell Dailey is coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department. The State Department has just put out its annual report on global terrorism. Thanks very much.

Mr. DAILEY: Steve, thank you very much.

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