February 6, 2006

FBI head visits Maghreb to cement anti-terror drive

RABAT (Reuters) - A senior U.S. security official was
scheduled to visit Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia this week to
cement their cooperation in Washington's fight against terror,
diplomats said on Monday.

U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) head Robert
Mueller's visit coincides with Moroccan media reports that
suspected al Qaeda members were attempting to sneak into Europe
from the region.

Quoting security officials, Moroccan media has suggested
group members were infiltrating waves of illegal sub-Saharan
migrants arriving in Morocco and Algeria.

North Africa is one of the main gateways of illegal
immigration into the European Union.

Mueller was scheduled to meet Morocco's King Mohammad on

His visit precedes that of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld, due in the region on Sunday after a NATO summit in
Sicily. It will be Rumsfeld's first visit to the Maghreb.

Morocco, a strong U.S. ally in the region, has clamped down
on suspected cells of Islamic radicals since 2003, when
multiple bombings in the country's financial capital Casablanca
killed 45 people and shocked the normally peaceful country.

Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are staunch backers of the
U.S. anti-terror drive. They want more U.S. support to counter
attempts by radical Islamists to recruit and train operatives
of al Qaeda network in Europe.

While ties between Washington and the three states remain
strong, the war in Iraq and U.S. support for Israel has
bolstered popular support for radical Islamist groups.