WASHINGTON – The Pentagon is said to be developing a list of potential countries around the world where cells of Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network are hiding out, leaving the door open to military action in those countries should it be necessary.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia were at or near the top of that list of potential places for future overt or covert American action.
But Secretary of State Colin Powell said that no military action is planned against the terrorist infrastructure in these countries in the near future. At the same time, he said, "We will seek out terrorists wherever they are located."
The reports that the administration is at least thinking about action against Muslim insurgents in East Asia surfaced within days of a U.S. letter to the United Nations reserving the right to extend the military campaign against other countries harboring terrorists.
The reports also illustrate clearly what the administration has been saying all along, namely that the new war on terror will not end in Afghanistan but will instead be one with many fronts.
"Al Qaeda's network reaches from parts of Europe — where they've had cells for years — to East Asia and beyond," says Ambassador Edward Walker, a former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs now heading the Middle East Institute.
"They were establishing cells in Italy, in the U.K., in America, and in Latin America," he says. "They've been around for a very long time."
A report distributed by a French member of parliament Wednesday says bin Laden could have links, direct or indirect, with more than 500 banks, businesses and charities across the globe. The Saudi billionaire is said to have set up this network in the 1990s, mainly in places like Sudan but also in Europe and other parts of the more developed world.
Some of the most virulent protests against U.S. military action in Afghanistan have occurred in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation. The American embassy there was closed Wednesday following three days of mass protests and threats from fringe Islamic groups.
Several militant Islamic groups have grown in prominence in Indonesia in recent years, including one, Darul Islam, which openly admits that it has links with bin Laden's Al Qaeda network and Afghanistan's Taliban regime.
In the predominantly Catholic Phillipines, the Abu Sayyaf group of Muslim guerillas also is believed to have links to bin Laden. The group is notorious for kidnappings of Filipinos and foreign tourists and is currently holding two Americans and claims to have beheaded a third.
Phillipine National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said Wednesday there was "no possibility" that American troops would intervene in that country, but he left open the door for U.S. intelligence, training and equipment to help in the government's struggle.
Powell suggested Wednesday that the administration will rely heavily on nonmilitary means to achieve its anti-terrorist goals in places like Southeast Asia.
"We will see what we are able to flush out as a result of intelligence activity, as a result of our law enforcement and financial activities," he said.
In the month since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, dozens of potential terrorists in 23 countries have been arrested or detained as part of the anti-terrorist crackdown. Ten were in Europe, one in East Asia, four in Africa, seven in the Near East-Middle East area, and one in Latin America.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.