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News Briefs, part 2

Egyptian Islamic Militants Deny Any Tie to New York Bombing

The Washington Post

CAIRO, Eygpt

Egypt's most militant Islamic movement Monday denied involvement in the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York and warned of unspecified "action" in retaliation for accusations against its spiritual leader living in the United States.

The statement by the Islamic Group was its first comment on the bombing since assertions last week by anonymous U.S. law enforcement officials that a suspect arrested in the case had worshipped at a New Jersey mosque where the group's spiritual mentor, Omar Abdul Rahman, sometimes preached.

"Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, may God preserve him, has no link whatsoever to the explosion of the World Trade Center," said the statement faxed to the Reuters news agency here.

"Unjustly defaming Imam Omar Abdul Rahman will under no circumstances pass without action whether on the level of (Islamic Group) or his followers and supporters in the world," the statement said, adding, "Doctor Omar has not been, is not and will never be a scapegoat."

It was unclear whether the new threat came from an individual zealot of the group or represents a new, planned strategy of the organization. In any event, it has prompted increased security at many companies, hotels and office buildings in Cairo.

A telephone number on the fax indicated it was sent from Peshawar, Pakistan -- a center during the 1980s for training young Muslim volunteers fighting with Afghanistan's Islamic resistance movement against the communist government there.

The statement said that targeting Abdul Rahman -- who last week "unequivocally denounced" the bombing -- "aims at disfiguring the image of faithful Muslim scholars in the world, which could leave bad repercussions on relations between Muslims and the West in the future."

The group also said it "would like to clarify" that its policy "does not target innocents regardless of their religions."

This latest communication from the Islamic Group illustrates some of the difficulties faced by officials, diplomats and foreigners here in assessing the clandestine organization's activities and strategies.

Even though the underground group appears to operate in discrete, local cells, it apparently has a hierarchy of authority. But apart from some identified senior leaders who are in prison, its most authoritative officials still active are unknown to outsiders.

With the group now under intense scrutiny by Egyptian security, it is communicating mainly by sending faxes to news organizations. But the contents of those messages are sometimes at odds with what the group's sympathizers and members say in private, as well as with what the group has said in the past.

For example, though denying Monday that it targets innocent civilians, the organization has claimed responsibility for attacks on foreign tourists as part of its campaign to overthrow Egypt's secular government and replace it with an Islamic one.

In interviews, people calling themselves members of the group say it has attacked tourists because, one of them said, "We want them to leave Egypt."

British Telecom Seeks Entry To U.S. Phone Market

The Washington Post

Global communications giant British Telecommunications PLC Monday asked the U.S. government for permission to set up an international telephone network linking businesses in the United States and other countries.

But British Telecom's pursuit of that goal might be challenged by U.S. telephone companies complaining that they do not have an equal right to establish a similar telephone system in Britain. It is a familiar argument, having been made recently by U.S. airline companies in trying to block British investment in Arlington, Va.-based USAir Group Inc.

In a petition filed with the Federal Communications Commission, British Telecom said it is seeking to take advantage of a potential $5 billion market in business telecommunications by becoming the first carrier to sell point-to-point services between U.S. and foreign locations for voice, video, facsimile and data transmissions.

Many businesses now use a variety of carriers to move volumes of data abroad from the United States, often encountering an array of switching arrangements in the process.

Complex billing procedures also abound in the use of multiple carriers.

Some companies, seeking to simplify their overseas flow of information, have established private telephone networks.

But those systems require huge expenditures of money and labor, thus increasing the costs of global business operations.

In its FCC proposal, the British firm said it seeks to end all of that by establishing an "international virtual network" -- that is, the global transfer of telephonic information through one system.

"We will be concerned about the further opening of the international telecommunications market in the United States until foreign markets allow us equal access," said Jim McGann, a spokesman for AT&T. McGann said that AT&T will study British Telecom's proposal in detail before deciding if it should protest its British rival's petition.

Officials of Washington-based MCI Communications Corp. Monday declined comment on the application.

British Telecom's strategy is to take advantage of a growing customer demand for simplified international telephone service, said Les Hankinson, the company's director of global programs.

"Our customers are absolutely demanding the single-supplier approach," partly because it eliminates billing problems and partly because a single supplier tends to respond more quickly in fixing network problems, Hankinson said.

Hankinson and other British Telecom officials said they do not buy the argument that U.S. companies are prevented from establishing end-to-end systems in Britain.

"The U.K does provide equal treatment," said Jim Graf, a British Telecom vice president in Washington.