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Monday, 16 December, 2002, 20:00 GMT
Bush orders hunt for terrorists
Wreckage of the car in which the suspects were travelling
A high-tech air-strike killed six al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen

President George W Bush is reported to have ordered American intelligence agents to hunt down leading terrorist suspects around the world and kill them if it was too dangerous to capture them, and if the lives of civilians were at risk.

Osama Bin Laden tops the list, which includes a host of other lesser-known figures, all now presumably watching their backs.

CIA logo
CIA allegedly plotted to kill at least seven foreign leaders
For the first time since 11 September 2001, the US Government has gone public about one of the most controversial aspects of its war on terrorism.

It has now been confirmed that the US Central Intelligence Agency is authorised to hunt down and kill more than 20 men, listed as America's most wanted terrorists.

The executive order extends in theory to all parts of the world, the idea being to put America's enemies out of action before they can do any harm.

But US officials are insisting that the ban on assassinations, introduced in 1976, has not been overturned.

'Enemy combatants'

That ban came about after disturbing allegations that the CIA had plotted to kill at least seven foreign leaders.

Qaed Senyan al-Harthi
Al-Qaeda suspect Al-Harthi was killed in Yemen by CIA
One proposed method was even said to involve impregnating a toothbrush with a deadly virus.

In the case of al-Qaeda, those on the hit-list are classed as "enemy combatants", a legal loophole that Washington says is appropriate in a time of war.

The methods used to hunt them down are likely to include hi-tech air strikes like the one used last month in Yemen to kill six al-Qaeda suspects.

They will also include single shots from long-range sniper rifles and poisonings, but not, according to US sources, any bombs in places where bystanders could be injured or killed.


Key stories

European probe

Background

IN DEPTH
See also:

15 Dec 02 | Americas
26 Nov 02 | South Asia
15 Dec 02 | Americas
05 Nov 02 | Middle East
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