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Saudi Arabia Blocks U.S. Efforts To Seize Terrorist Sought by FBI

Los Angeles Times

Saudi Arabia thwarted American efforts two weeks ago to seize a man authorities believe is one of the world's most wanted terrorists, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The man they had hoped to arrest had been hunted for a decade for his reputed roles in the 1983 car-bombing that killed 241 U.S. servicemen in Lebanon and for a 1985 Trans World Airlines hijacking in which one American died.

FBI officials were secretly sent overseas to prepare to take custody of the suspect, a leader of the militant Muslim group Hezbollah, on a stopover in Saudi Arabia during an April 7 Middle East Airlines flight headed from Khartoum, Sudan, to Beirut.

But before they could carry out this operation, Saudi Arabia decided not to cooperate and refused to allow the plane to land.

The Clinton administration this week delivered a formal diplomatic protest to Saudi Arabia for its unwillingness to help the FBI. The incident underscored the limits of cooperation between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which admitted American troops onto its soil in 1990 to help defend the kingdom following the Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait.

The suspect sought by the FBI, who was secretly indicted in the United States in 1985, is said to have been the Hezbollah security chief in Lebanon who was in charge of American hostages taken in the hijacking of TWA flight 847 from Athens to Rome. One American, Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem, was killed during that hijacking.

Although authorities refuse to give the suspect's name, he is believed to be Imad Mughniyah, whom a top FBI official described several years ago as "the single most dangerous terrorist at large today."

Mughniyah is said to have been one of the masterminds not only of the TWA hijacking but also of the 1983 suicide bombing that killed 241 American military personnel in Beirut. And he was a leader in the abduction of a series of American hostages in Lebanon in the early 1980s.

Battle of the Credit Cards Played Out in Mailboxes

The Hartford Courant

For 25 years, federal law has prohibited companies from sending people unsolicited credit cards.

But that hasn't stopped credit issuers from mailing thousands of unordered cards to customers of department stores, gasoline retailers and other businesses.

The recent practice, which some credit card experts say operates on the edge of the federal law, is occurring as retailers and banks team up to offer Visa or MasterCards in the retailer's name. The cards sometimes are sent automatically to customers who hold the retailer's existing credit card, whether they want the new version or not. Usually the card cannot be used unless the customer calls the credit issuer to activate it.

The Norwalk, Conn.-based Caldor department store chain this month mailed the new Caldor Visa, issued through Fleet Bank, to some customers who already have its Caldor credit card.

Similarly, Shell, Exxon and Sunoco oil companies recently sent MasterCards to some of their credit card holders.

Since 1969, the Federal Reserve Board has prohibited credit issuers from sending a card to anyone who has not agreed to accept it. But the companies are operating under an exception that permits them to send a substitute card without first obtaining a customer's permission. In doing so, credit issuers are permitted to upgrade their existing card, for example, to make it function in an automated teller machine.

But some credit card experts say that exception was never meant to allow card issuers to send a general purpose Visa or MasterCard to holders of a limited-use retailer's card, especially when the retailer's card still is being offered.