Spy chief: Hezbollah is growing danger to U.S.

WASHINGTON - Al-Qaida poses the gravest terrorist threat to the United States and an emboldened Hezbollah is a growing danger, the U.S. intelligence chief said Thursday.

In his annual review of global threats, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte highlighted an increasingly worrisome assessment of Hezbollah - backed by Iran and Syria - since its 34-day war with Israel last year.

"As a result of last summer's hostilities, Hezbollah's self-

confidence and hostility toward the United States as a supporter of Israel could cause the group to increase its contingency planning against United States interests," Negroponte told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

He depicted a more multifaceted terrorist threat than in years past. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, U.S. spy agencies have stressed the threat from al-Qaida and associated Sunni extremist groups, rather than from Hezbollah and other Shiite Muslim groups.

Hezbollah has a global fundraising network, but has not directly attacked U.S. interests in years. It was responsible for the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, that killed hundreds of American servicemen. The group's Saudi wing, in coordination with the larger Lebanese Hezbollah, is blamed for the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996.

A separate report by government task force predicted that attacks against America and its allies probably would increase in the next few years because terrorists' intentions have not diminished and their methods are "very nimble and very complex."

Negroponte said Iraq is at a "precarious juncture" and the Baghdad government needs to establish secular institutions that can bridge sectarian differences.