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American Missionary, 2 U.S. Soldiers Shot in Recent Middle East Attacks

By Michael Slackman

and John Daniszewski

Two U.S. soldiers were shot and seriously wounded Thursday in this tiny nation bordering Iraq and an American missionary was gunned down in Lebanon, the latest in a spate of attacks that suggest it has become increasingly dangerous to be American in the Arab world.

Threats and assaults on U.S. citizens and businesses have become more frequent in recent weeks, even in countries such as Kuwait and Jordan that had long been considered among the safest and most pro-American in the region.

Some of the incidents may be spontaneous, traceable to rising anti-American sentiment fueled by the possibility of a U.S.-led war against Iraq, and by what is seen as Washington’s unquestioning support for Israel. But other attacks, observers say, may be part of an orchestrated campaign by al-Qaida and its supporters to follow Osama bin Laden’s recent dictate to kill Americans and their allies.

Although authorities here and in Lebanon said it was too soon to identify a motive in either assault, the incidents underscore the reality that Americans were forced to confront on Sept. 11: that extremists have declared them all fair game.

As security is increased at official U.S. sites, terrorists will seek “softer” targets, the State Department warned in a worldwide alert Wednesday. These may include facilities where Americans live or visit, such as residential neighborhoods, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, hotels, outdoor events or resorts.

Yet Americans should not draw the false conclusion that everyone hates their country, insisted one government spokesman in this oil-rich emirate that U.S. troops liberated from Iraq 11 years ago.

“There is no anti-Americanism at all in Kuwait,” said Yahqoub Abdullah of the Kuwaiti Information Ministry. “A bunch of kids is ruining our relations -- doing illegal things. We in Kuwait appreciate what you have done for us.”

Bonnie Whitherall, 31, of Washington, was the first victim Thursday. A nurse and Christian missionary, Whitherall was volunteering at a clinic for the poor in the biblical Lebanese port city of Sidon. As she opened the front door at about 8:30 a.m., someone shot her in the head three times.

The two soldiers were shot by a Kuwaiti traffic police officer who then fled across the border to Saudi Arabia, authorities here said. Authorities are working to extradite the suspect.

The attack on U.S. servicemen in Kuwait -- the third in slightly more than a month -- is particularly striking because the Pentagon is relying on the emirate as a launching point for a potential invasion of Iraq.