Club of Monaco meets on ‘real’ WMD terror threat
MONACO, Feb 29 (AFP) - The world faces the danger of constantly mutating terrorism capable of using weapons of mass destruction, with Iraq threatening to turn into a theatre of operations and sanctuary for such groups, experts warned here Sunday.
“The Iraqi war created unprecedented new terrain for a jihad,” one warned. “If the Iraq problem isn’t solved fast we have a major risk of a new Afghanistan.”
A specialist also warned that the Russian breakaway republic of Chechnya served as training base for Islamic radicals planning to use chemical and biological weapons against targets in Europe.
“We’re no longer talking about the realm of the possible, this is already for real,” he noted.
Some 40 personalities, including former prime ministers, foreign ministers plus Israeli and Palestinian representatives, spent the weekend in closed-door consultations led by former United Nations secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
The participants are members of the so-called Club of Monaco, which focuses on Mediterranean affairs.
“Iraq has quite definitely become an extremely important element with which to enhance and amplify the terms of the threat,” a specialist told the meeting.
It had been a strategic mistake of the United States to use military force against the terrorist threat by justifying the Iraqi invasion on the grounds of the fight against terrorism, the weekend session was told.
Only cooperation between intelligence services, police and legal authorities could provide solutions, participants stressed.
One noted that the political tension between France and the United States caused by the Iraq crisis last year “did not have any effect on operational cooperation between French and American intelligence services.”
The minutes of the weekend talks were made available on condition that speakers were not identified.
The meeting heard alarming testimony by experts, including Jean-Louis Bruguiere, France’s top judge investigating crimes of terrorism.
He told AFP that the global fight against terrorism was against an increasingly elusive enemy with access to funds virtually impossible to control.
Although Al-Qaeda was far weaker now than in 2001, the year of the September 11 attacks and the US-led war in Afghanistan, the extremist organization was still capable of inspiring people to carry out attacks, Bruguiere said.
“We are facing a scattered and polymorphous threat,” he warned. One expert told the assembly that Al-Qaeda’s concept was not “efficient in operational terms.”
Even the arrest of its leader Osama Bin Laden would change nothing. “He is a mythical figure but he is not heading an apparat,” the expert said.
Another stressed that the world was confronted by “a phenomenon characterised by one basic element: mutability. We’re facing a viral type of threat. We have picture images of this threat, but we don’t know what it will change into in future.”
Experts said the terrorists’ global mobility was constructed around a hard core consisting of the vestiges of Al-Qaeda, which had played an inspirational role.
Linked to this core were sectarian groups such as Pakistani clandestine organisations originally set up by Pakistani intelligence services to promote anti-Indian rebellion in Kashmir, but which had since turned to terrorist activities.
“They have become very active supports to Al-Qaeda and probably constitute the main threat for years to come,” a speaker noted.
Favoured targets of these radical Islamics included Singapore, Indonesia and Australia.
Radicals had also headed for Chechnya to fight Russian government forces trying to put down separatism in the mainly Muslim republic.
French judge Bruguiere said Al-Qaeda, “still exists but has been significantly weakened by the neutralization and capture of a certain number of its members and of those in charge”.
Although dozens of alleged members of Al-Qaeda have been captured or killed since it claimed responsibility for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, authorities have come up empty-handed so far in the search for the group’s mastermind, Osama bin Laden, and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Since the September 2001 strikes on the United States, large-scale attacks have occurred in other parts of the world. Among the targets have been a synagogue in northern Tunisia, a nightclub in Bali, a hotel in Kenya and numerous bombings in Chechnya and Russia.
Subject: France news