WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush accused militants yesterday of seeking to establish a “radical Islamic empire” and said the United States and its allies had foiled at least 10 plots by the al-Qaida terror network since the Sept. 11 attacks.
He warned other nations not to support or harbor groups with al-Qaida ties.
In a speech designed to revive flagging public support for the war in Iraq, Bush said Islamic radicals are using that nation as a base for attacks. Such radicals are being sheltered by “allies of convenience like Syria and Iran,” Bush declared in a speech before the National Endowment for Democracy.
Polls show declining American support for the war that has thus far claimed more than 1,940 members of the U.S. military. Bush’s policy faces a crucial test in Iraq’s Oct. 15 referendum on a new constitution, a vote that Bush has said terrorists will try to derail.
In remarks clearly aimed at those seeking a withdrawal of U.S. troops, Bush said: “There’s always a temptation in the middle of a long struggle to seek the quiet life, to escape the duties and problems of the world and to hope the enemy grows weary of fanaticism and tired of murder.”
“We will keep our nerve and we will win that victory,” he said.
Asked about the president’s singling out of Iran and Syria as “allies of convenience,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, “They continue to move in the wrong direction.”
Likewise, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in London that explosive devices that have killed U.S.-led troops were similar to those used by the Iranian-linked militant group Hezbollah.
“There is no justification for Iran or any other country interfering in Iraq,” Blair said at a news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
Iran’s ambassador in London, Seyed Mohammad Hossein Adeli, said the charges were not supported by evidence and “we are against any kind of action which might jeopardize or destroy the stabilization process of Iraq.”
At the White House, McClellan was asked about Bush’s reference to 10 foiled terror attacks, including three in the United States. He said some of the information the president based his remarks on remains classified.
McClellan mentioned the conviction of Iyman Faris, a Columbus, Ohio, truck driver who authorities said plotted attacks on the Brooklyn Bridge and a central Ohio shopping mall. Administration officials have previously claimed success in breaking up terror cells in New York, Oregon, Virginia and Florida.
He also mentioned Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member who converted to Islam and allegedly plotted with top al-Qaida commanders to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a U.S. city. Padilla, whose plot never materialized, was designated an enemy combatant by Bush and is being held without criminal charge at a Navy brig in South Carolina.
“We have been successful in disrupting certain plots. Some have been made public or are in the public domain, like Richard Reid,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told reporters. “Others are classified.” Shoe-bomber Richard Reid is serving a life sentence after a failed attempt to blow up an American Airlines flight in 2001.
Democrats challenged Bush’s arguments on the Iraq mission. “The president went into Iraq under a false premise, without a plan, and has totally mismanaged our involvement,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. “Now he is trying to justify his actions with a series of excuses.”