Revolutionary zealots are plotting acts of terrorism against Americans. They have been enlisted in an underground war against the United States by Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He has ordered his legions to strike back at the "Great Satan," as he describes America, for sending a naval force into the Persian Gulf.

This message was addressed to us and delivered to our associate Barbara Newman by Hussein Musawi, the operations chief in the terrorist stronghold of Baalbek, Lebanon. Two newsmen have already been grabbed by terrorists in Lebanon. Yet Newman, with bodyguards arranged by a Lebanese warlord, recently visited Baalbek itself.

She has kept in touch with the warlord, Elie Hobeika, whose headquarters is in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, near Baalbek. The message from the terrorist stronghold has been confirmed by intelligence sources. They agree that Khomeini's terrorists are preparing to strike U.S. targets in the Mideast, Europe and perhaps America itself.

The implacable ayatollah has recruited an invisible army of terrorists from restive Shiite villages across the Moslem world -- the deprived, the dispossessed, the disillusioned. They have been transformed into "soldiers of God," driven at once by idealism and hatred.

Most have been indoctrinated and trained at nine terrorist camps in Iran. But Lebanese terrorists are trained in Baalbek by Khomeini's Revolutionary Guards, who were sent there from Iran. The recruits are taught puritanical Islam, inculcated with hatred of things foreign and instructed in the grim arts of assassination, sabotage, hijacking and hostage-taking. Even more ominous, graduates of a suicide course are sworn to die for the ayatollah.

In Lebanon, the motley terrorist bands are governed by a secret body called the Council of Lebanon, made up of Shiite mullahs, Revolutionary Guards and terrorist chiefs. The operational orders, like commands from on high, come from Iran.

The dominant terrorist group is Hezbollah, the "Party of God." From former terrorists who lost their enthusiasm for suicide missions, Newman learned that Hezbollah's security chief, Imad Mughnyah, has custody of most foreign hostages.

One exception is Anglican envoy Terry Waite, who flew to Lebanon on a mercy mission to negotiate the hostages' release and is now himself a prize hostage. He is reportedly still alive, though in poor health, under close guard in the Shiite section of Beirut. Newman was told he will be among the last to be released, because the terrorists are angry at Britain. Apparently they also believe their own propaganda: that he is a CIA spy.

Meanwhile, the Syrians have become fearful about the emergence of an Islamic puppet state, loyal to Khomeini, within Syria's sphere of influence. For this reason, they have blocked the flow of terrorists and supplies in and out of the Bekaa Valley. Syrian authorities are applying quiet pressure for release of the hostages, especially Waite.

But the hostages' fate is up to Khomeini, who has shown a hunger for kindling the Mideast tinderbox, promoting anti-Western agitation, and eliminating U.S. influence. The hope in Washington is that Khomeini, given the laws of geriatrics, cannot last much longer.