The embassies closed were in the capitals of Uruguay, Paraguay and Ecuador. A U.S. intelligence official said, "It's best to take the worst-case scenario."
Another U.S. government official said, "There was a certain level of huffing and puffing" being intercepted between cells of known and suspected bin Laden operatives, and U.S. security specialists felt "we should take certain precautions."
According to a source, the tip on bin Laden came from Argentine intelligence. "Of all the groups in the area, Argentina is most dedicated to fighting terrorism," he said.
The tri-border area between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil has been described as a bin Laden terrorist "nerve center," according to one expert U.S. government official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It's a tremendous network, and there were indications it was being activated for something specific," he said.
Bin Laden operatives had arrived "over a period of time," apparently to carry out special missions. Shiite Muslims put up the operatives in their homes, helped them move around, and furnished them with maps and diagrams of target areas, he said.
A former CIA official said the area around Igasu Falls in Argentina contained 80,000 Shia Moslems, and that Iran "is directly implicated" in the 1992 Hezbollah bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and another bombing two years later. Bin Laden operatives are said to have had a subsidiary role in both bombings.
Even Abu Nidal, the famed Iraqi-based Palestinian terrorist, had cells in Peru, the former agency official said.
The threat of bin Laden strikes against the Eypgtian government forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to place his security forces on high alert during his recent visit to the United States, U.S. officials said.
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