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Poll: Most Americans back assassinating terrorists

(CNN) -- A majority of Americans support giving government agents the power to assassinate terrorists despite a U.S. policy forbidding such actions, according to a Newsweek poll released Saturday.

In addition, more than three-quarters of 1,003 people surveyed -- 78 percent -- said they favored using military force against Saddam Hussein's forces in Iraq, with 75 percent supporting operations against terrorist targets in other Middle Eastern nations and 66 percent backing those in countries outside the region.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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The issue of assassinations prompted some of the most pervasive and most mixed responses in the poll.

The United States officially forbids the targeted assassinations of prominent world figures, but a majority of respondents supported such assassinations. The responses varied according to which region of the world the assassinations were to take place, with 65 percent favoring actions in the Mideast; 57 percent in Asia and Africa; and 54 percent in Europe.

But when asked how targeted killings of terrorists would affect U.S. security, 40 percent said they would increase the likelihood more attacks would be carried out against Americans. Just 28 percent said assassinations would decrease the number of attacks, while a similar number said they would not make any difference.

These opinions mirrored U.S. opinion of the situation in Israel, where Israeli authorities have targeted and killed several suspected terrorist leaders. Nineteen percent said the policy had effectively decreased the terrorist risk, with 32 percent saying it had done the opposite and 37 percent saying it made no difference.

Getting bin Laden will not eliminate the threat of future terrorist attacks, according to all but 7 percent of respondents. Thirty-two percent of those polled say other al Qaeda leaders must be captured or killed for this to happen, with 52 percent claiming that even sweeping out al Qaeda's leadership won't end the attacks -- too many terrorist cells and potential leaders remain, they said.

And the percentage of those who believe that the financial crackdown on terrorism will be effective fell to 47 percent, down from 75 percent in October.

Still, most Americans believe Osama bin Laden's fate is critical to the current campaign against terrorism. Some 62 percent said the United States cannot declare a victory in Afghanistan unless the al Qaeda leader and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar are captured or killed.


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