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Middle East Digest: April 11, 2007

Bureau of Public Affairs
April 11, 2007

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The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/

From Daily Briefing on April 11, 2007:

MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. I have one opening statement concerning the recent terrorist attacks in North Africa, Morocco and Algeria.

The United States condemns the terrorist attacks that occurred yesterday, April 10, in Casablanca involving suicide bombers and today's bomb attacks in Algiers. These horrific acts indiscriminately killed members of the security services and civilians alike. We extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of these atrocities, their families, and the people of Algeria and Morocco. We stand with the Moroccan and Algerian people and their governments in the struggle against extremism and violence, and support their efforts to secure a future peace. There is no political justification for the murder of innocent life.

And with that, happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: You're not seeing a link between these two?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. I -- just before I came out here, I saw a wire report in which al-Qaida claimed responsibility for both attacks. I can't confirm that at this point, so I'm not in the position right now to confirm any linkage between the two attacks. We do know that al-Qaida and al-Qaida affiliates have been active in the past in North Africa. I expect that the investigation is going to continue to determine who exactly is responsible for the acts. We'll support the Moroccan and Algerian authorities in whatever appropriate way in order to identify those individuals and, of course, we want to see them brought to justice. But I think we're going to have to wait on the results of some further investigations before we're able to determine any possible linkage and verify the claim.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) made more urgent to install this African Command you are planning for the Department of Defense and the Department of State to fight terrorism?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think -- well, it's important in its own -- in our own right. There are a number of different issues in which DOD is engaged on the continent of Africa and I think it's a farsighted initiative on the part of the Department of Defense and we're happy to participate with them in setting up the Africa Command. I confess, I don't know the current status of readiness. I know that they were laying some -- laying the groundwork to actually establish the headquarters component and get in place all the resources for the command, but I can't tell you where it stands right now.

QUESTION: Sean, yesterday the consulate in Casablanca was closed down after the police raid. Has that reopened yet? And has there been any kind of similar step taken in Algiers?

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me check for you whether or not the consulate has opened up. I know that they were closed -- I think they were closed today. Is that correct? I think -- we'll check for you on that, Matt. In terms of the Embassy in Algiers, they are taking all the appropriate security precautions that they might normally do in a case like this that you would expect they might do. This is a post already that has a heightened security profile. They are as far as I'm able to determine still open as such. But we'll -- I'll check for you to see if there's anything about closures, either in Casablanca or Algiers.

QUESTION: And you don't have anything on injured Americans.

MR. MCCORMACK: No reports of any injured Americans.

QUESTION: Do you see al-Qaida as a growing threat in North Africa? Do you have any intelligence that they are regrouping or anything on their links with al-Qaida leadership?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I can't assess for you whether or not it's a growing threat. It is a current and persistent threat. There have been some successes on the part of Algeria and Moroccan authorities in the past in breaking up terrorist cells, but we know that there is a continuing threat from the presence of -- at the very least, al-Qaida related affiliates both in Morocco and Algeria. I can't offer an assessment for you whether or not it is a growing threat, but it's a very real threat as evidenced by the actions today.


QUESTION: About Iran and Iraq. Caldwell this morning held a press conference in Baghdad showing more weapons, saying that training was taking place (inaudible). Can you elaborate on this a bit?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have much more that I can elaborate beyond what he has said, other than to say that in my consultations with colleagues here in the building that this information is, in fact, solid; that there is training of these people that has taken place outside of Iraq, including in Iran. That's clearly disturbing and inconsistent with Iranian public pledges about wanting to support a more stable, secure, peaceful Iraq, so that is, in fact, a direct contradiction. For our part, we have made it clear that we are going to go after these networks. We are not going to allow them to operate freely in Iraq to threaten our troops. And I think the Iranians as well as others inside Iraq understand that clearly now.

QUESTION: So if the Iranians do show up at this neighbors conference, will you take them to task over this during the conference?

MR. MCCORMACK: If the -- we will see if we have the appropriate opportunity to raise the issue. Certainly, if it's an issue related to protection of our troops, I'm sure that we will find some way to raise the issue.

QUESTION: Did you ever hear more from the Swiss?


QUESTION: If the Iranians will not attend the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, anything will be -- anything will be changed regarding this conference?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can't tell you whether or not that's their final answer. They have to inform the Iraqi Government. I know there was some attempt to make a connection between the five individuals that are being held by our multinational forces and attendance at the conference. We clearly don't recognize any such linkage. These are individuals that were swept up in operations to break up these EFD networks.

Now, if Iraq is -- if Iran is truly interested in playing a supporting -- a supportive role for the Iraqi Government as it deals with its numerous, numerous issues, then certainly something like this would not get in the way of their attendance at the conference. They attended an envoys-level conference.

So whether or not they attend is going to be up to them. I think the -- I'll let the Iraqis speak for themselves about how they would feel about it. But the absence -- their absence at a conference designed to send a positive, supportive message to the Iraqi people and to the Iraqi Government would certainly be notable.


QUESTION: Did you hear the Syrians are going to attend or not?

MR. MCCORMACK: I don't know. We're not collecting RSVPs. It's the Iraqis who are --

QUESTION: The Iraqis.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, I don't know. I don't know. Check with them.

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