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US to expand Arabic broadcasts

Programming to reach Europe

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration plans to begin Arab-language satellite-television broadcasts to Europe later this year in a new escalation of its information war against Islamic extremism, officials say.

Some 3½ years after Islamic militants based in Germany helped mount the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, US-backed TV channel Alhurra expects to transmit 24-hour programming to European Muslim communities seen as potential breeding grounds of extremism.

France and Germany, which have Western Europe's largest Muslim populations, would be a special focus for news and current affairs programs intended to promote an American ethic of free speech and open debate, officials say.

''The 9/11 hijackers came largely from Europe. It's a significant gap that we were not broadcasting in Arabic to Europe," said Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the US agency in charge of US civilian television and radio broadcasts overseas.

The planned broadcasts, which would not include Russia, are also meant as competition for Qatar-based channel Al-Jazeera, which administration officials view as an anti-American rival for Muslim public opinion.

''The reason for being [in Europe] is the same as our reason for being in the Middle East: to provide a different perspective . . . of America and the world," said Norman Pattiz, who chairs the broadcasting board's Middle East committee.

Start-up funding for the $3.5 million venture would come from President Bush's $81 billion supplemental budget request for military operations in Iraq.

If Congress approves the request within the next several weeks as officials expect, Virginia-based Alhurra could begin broadcasting next fall to a Muslim population estimated at 11 million people in Western Europe alone, officials said.

The Bush administration views satellite television as a so-called soft-power tool for building good will toward the United States, which has been deeply unpopular in the Muslim world in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Since the Madrid bombings last year, intelligence officials have warned of an increasing threat from European-born Islamic extremists inspired by Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

''Obviously some of the people who are discontented and are recruitable for terrorism are Muslim minorities in Europe," said Harvard professor Joseph Nye, a soft-power advocate and former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, the federal government's strategic intelligence think tank.

Officials say that Alhurra has grown to reach about 25 percent of satellite television viewers in the Middle East.

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