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Suicide bombs biggest threat to US - experts

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, June 13 (Reuters) Suicide bombs rather than chemical, biological or nuclear weapons are the most serious threat to the United States, according to a survey of top American foreign policy and terrorism experts.

The pace of suicide strikes around the world accelerated sharply since the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, with hundreds of people killed in Indonesia, Jordan, Israel, Madrid and London. Suicide bombs, strapped to people or hidden in cars, are a weapon of choice for insurgents in Iraq.

In a survey of 117 foreign policy and terrorism experts, Foreign Policy magazine and the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank, found that suicide bomb were rated the most likely method of attack by 67 per cent of those surveyed.

Radiological weapons followed in second place with 20 per cent.

Chemical weapons (10 per cent), biological weapons (9 per cent) and nuclear weapons (6 per cent) ranked much lower on the experts' threat list.

''Americans have never feared a suicide bombing the way the people of Amman and Jerusalem have,'' the survey says. ''But the odds that America can elude the world's most popular form of terrorism may be fading fast.'' Those surveyed included academics, retired military officers, think tank analysts and former administration, foreign service and intelligence officers.

Organizers describe the survey as the first of an annual series to establish a ''terrorism index.'' Eighty-four percent of those surveyed think an attack on the scale of the 2005 London or 2004 Madrid bombings - 56 and 192 people killed respectively - will take place in the United States within the next five years. Seventy-nine per cent think an attack on the scale of the September 11 attacks, which killed almost 3,000 people, is likely.

In recent months, fear of terrorism has dropped among ordinary Americans. According to a CBS poll in May, only five percent saw terrorism as the most important problem facing the US, behind the war in Iraq, the economy, immigration and gasoline prices. Other polls had similar results.

The survey, to be published online tomorrow showed a wide gap on key issues between public perceptions and the views of experts.

Only 13 percent of the experts think America is winning the war on terror, compared with 56 percent of the public. While 87 per cent of the experts think the war in Iraq had a negative impact on the war on terror, only 44 per cent of the public share that view.

The pessimism of the experts, from across the political spectrum, stems from their belief that the US national security establishment is in disrepair and the Bush administration's performance abroad has been poor.

Asked to grade US government departments which deal with terrorism and foreign policy on a scale of 1 to 10, the experts rated the Department of Homeland Security at 2.9, the newly-established Directorate of National Intelligence at 3.9 and the State Department at 4.4.

The only government agency awarded a score of more than 5 was the National Security Agency, currently the center of controversy over a program to collect the records of telephone calls of tens of millions of Americans without court orders.

The policy initiative that received the lowest grade from the experts: public diplomacy, tasked with improving the foreign image of the United States. Its score was 1.8, the equivalent of an F-minus.

Reuters SY GC2103

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