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Getting a Grip on Terror

A review of international press coverage

Mexico-United States: Tighter Border Security
The situation at the Mexican-American border has changed dramatically since Sept. 11. If you’re leaving the United States via one of the three bridges that connect America’s Laredo, Texas (pop. 200,000) with Mexico’s Nuevo Laredo (pop. 650,000), you’ll be troubled neither by U.S. nor Mexican officials (the Mexicans have shifted their border posts farther into the interior, to get a better grip on smuggling within the border area). But if you’re traveling by car the other way, from Mexico to the United States, you will find yourself waiting in line, anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours at crush periods.

The delays in customs processing are partially due to tighter security checks by U.S. immigration and customs authorities. Since October, to enter legally, whether as workers or tourists, all Mexicans have had to show a visa card that can be electronically scanned and is virtually impossible to forge. U.S. consulates in Mexico were preparing to issue these “laser visas” well before the new anti-terrorist security regulations were put in place. Computer checks of the card take a good deal longer than a casual glance at personal papers by a border guard. Spot checks are a thing of the past; everything and everyone is examined.

—Richard Bauer, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (conservative), Zurich, Switzerland, Jan. 7, 2002

20 Countries Beef Up Air Security
Transport ministers from 20 countries adopted a joint statement [Jan. 15] in Tokyo condemning the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and expressing full support for international moves to enhance security for air and maritime transportation.

The statement was released after the ministers and other high-level representatives of 14 European countries, Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States began two days of talks in Tokyo to discuss anti-terrorism measures and transport policies designed to alleviate environmental harm.

The ministers pledged to “make concerted efforts” for the success of a high-level conference on aviation security organized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) scheduled for February.

That meeting will see discussions on strengthening civil aviation security and the possibility of establishing an ICAO security audit program to ensure that each country conforms to applicable international standards on airport security arrangements and civil aviation security programs.

The standards require signatories to establish security measures preventing weapons and explosives from being taken aboard aircraft, but according to transport ministry officials no third-party audit programs have been established to check if such measures, particularly those of developing countries, meet required standards.

“We also recognize the necessity of assisting developing countries with respect to civil aviation and marine transportation safety, and security matters,” the statement said.

—The Japan Times (independent), Tokyo, Japan, Jan. 16, 2002

Saudi Arabia:
Blocking Terrorists’ Bank Accounts

Out of the streets behind closed doors, unprecedented activities are taking place [in Saudi Arabia] with regard to the issue of money and bank accounts. Affecting Saudi and Arab financial institutions, such as the central bank, investigators and auditors are reviewing series of accounts, according to reports mentioned by American authorities. According to Saudi sources, Saudi officials have complied with this completely.

This national monetary investigatory effort has been ongoing, focusing on blocking private money transfers to terrorist organizations, as well as financial investments by traditional or electronic means. Financial institutions refused to reveal the names of individuals whose accounts or other related monetary activities were put under investigation.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat has also learned that accounts belonging to the [greater] Bin Laden family—to which Osama bin Laden, leader of Al-Qaeda and the world’s most-wanted man belongs—were put under investigation. Other financial institutions requested immediate searches for the presence of any accounts, trusts, or investments in connection to persons or organizations linked with terrorism. To facilitate this endeavor, American security forces in coordination with the European Union have worked out arrangements to freeze and investigate those [Saudi] accounts that participated in foreign business in the past. The funds and associated business interests of those frozen accounts will be protected from the effects of having been subjected to an investigation; accounts with no connections will not suffer financial consequences (such as late banking fees).

—Al-Sharq al-Awsat (Saudi-owned), London, England, Dec. 30, 2001

Britain-United States: Hunt for 20 Ships
British and American intelligence services are hunting the world for at least 20 ships thought to make up a terrorist fleet linked to Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda group. Security and shipping sources said British, U.S., and European intelligence services have been desperately searching for Bin Laden’s “phantom fleet” amid fears that the vessels could be carrying poisons, explosives, or weapons.

The ships were identified at least three months ago as a result of a joint intelligence operation thought to be led by the Norwegian security service and America’s CIA with the help of international shipping registries.

—Martin Bright, Paul Harris, and Nick Paton Walsh, The Observer (liberal weekly), London, England, Dec. 23, 2001

Romania-Austria: Fighting Illegal Migration
Romania’s minister of the interior, Ioan Rus, and his Austrian counterpart, Ernst Strasser, have signed in Bucharest a collaboration protocol that capitalizes on the opportunities for cooperation between the two ministers in fighting illegal migration and border crime. The document provides for exchanges of information about illegal migration, organized crime, drug trafficking, as well as international terrorism. It will be carried out based on the provisions in a March 10, 1999, agreement between the government of Romania and the federal government of Austria. The document says that the formalities for the coming into force on Feb. 6, 2002, of a Romanian-Austrian Agreement on the readmission of people and the accompanying application protocol have been met. As of now, all Romanians in breach of Austrian law and the readmission agreement will be turned back to Romania, Interior Minister Rus explained.

Rompres (government press agency), Bucharest, Romania, Jan. 10, 2002

Pakistan: Will Musharraf Walk the Walk?
Though Pakistan has had no hesitation in extraditing to the United States Pakistani nationals wanted in terrorism and heroin-smuggling related cases, it is unlikely to be equally cooperative with India.

Saudi Arabia follows a similar policy of not extraditing its nationals to other countries for trial. It has refused to cooperate even with the United States with respect to Saudi nationals wanted by U.S. law enforcement agencies. Some other Arab countries follow a similar policy. When the Carlos network [under “Carlos the Jackal,” a Venezuelan terrorist who is currently serving a life sentence for a triple murder committed in 1975—WPR] was dismantled in 1994-95, Sudan and Yemen cooperated with France and Germany in the deportation of the non-Muslim members of the network, including Carlos, Yohannes Weinrach Peter, etc., but not the Muslim members.

Musharraf’s litany of promised actions against religious extremists and terrorists operating inside Pakistani territory was mainly meant to impress the United States, from which he expects a more active role on the Kashmir issue with respect to Pakistan’s urgings.

—B. Raman, Outlook (independent weekly), New Delhi, India, Jan. 14, 2002

Azerbaijan: Plot Foiled
Azerbaijani authorities arrested six alleged members of a banned extreme Islamist group, Wesb-e-Tahrir, on Jan. 2. The six include five Azeris and a Ukrainian of Azeri origin. Another man, an Uzbek called Abdul Abdurakhimov and known also under the name Abdullah, is being sought by authorities on suspicion of being the mastermind of a terrorist plot. Abdurakhimov is thought to have fled to Azerbaijan after being hunted by Uzbek security services for alleged extremist activity in Uzbekistan between 1992 and 1999, and for calling for the overthrow of the authoritarian secular regime of President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan.

Azerbaijani authorities claim that the Baku-based cell was planning to bomb the U.S. Embassy and offices of other foreign organizations in the city. Authorities also believe the attacks could have claimed many casualties. Incriminating material seized during the raid of a Baku flat including a bomb-making manual as well as extremist literature.

—Aynura Akhmedova, Transitions Online (Internet publication), Prague, Czech Republic, Dec. 18, 2001-Jan. 7, 2002

European Arrest Warrants
Britain yesterday surrendered 1,000 years of legal sovereignty in return for a European extradition treaty. The Euro warrant deal was sealed when its last opponent, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, backed down.

Britain and most other countries in the European Union are likely to begin operating the Euro system in 2004, although legislation to put it into effect will have to be agreed to by Parliament.

The United Kingdom first pressed for a Euro-extradition scheme to get “Costa del Crime” villains back from Spain. But Spain has now agreed on an extradition treaty, and no Euro warrant is needed.

Supporters of the agreement say it will stop suspects from stretching their fight against extradition over several years, often at huge cost to taxpayers. Opponents say the inclusion of crimes like “swindling” could mean almost anyone involved in any transaction could find themselves being summoned. Lawyers also see dangers in the inclusion of crimes like rape that are notoriously vulnerable to abuse by those making false accusations.

“We all support action against terrorism, but we are about to introduce a radical shake-up that has not been thought through,” Stephen Jakobi of the pressure group Fair Trials Abroad said. “One problem is that the crimes on the list are being set by politicians who can move the goalposts at any moment.”

—Steve Doughty, Daily Mail (conservative), London, England, Dec. 12, 2001

Leicester: On High Alert
It’s the question on everyone’s lips: Is Leicester really the terrorist capital of the United Kingdom? Last week, talk in the bars and coffee shops around the city suggested maybe it was. The Sunday newspapers seemed to agree. But yesterday, the landscape of last week’s drama had changed again.

Of the nine people arrested last week under anti-terrorism laws, five have been released without charge. The five released on bail left with a warning from police that they were still being investigated—for fraud, though, not terrorism. The remaining four—who were also detained by police last week after high profile raids—were handed over to the immigration service.

The obvious question, though, is: Are there any terrorists in Leicester? Mike Rowe, lecturer in public order at the University of Leicester’s Scarman Center, said it was impossible to say. “The arrests last Thursday were part of an ongoing operation which started months before in Leicester,” he said. “It would be foolish to say: ‘That’s it, there won’t be any more arrests.’ Who knows?”

[Adds Abu Taher, leader of the Bangladeshi community in Leicester]: “I am confident that the police inquiry will draw a clear line between peace-loving Muslims in Leicester and outsiders, which these people were. I am pleased the anti-terrorist squad are here in Leicester.”

—Leicester Mercury (Leicestershire regional), Leicester, England, Jan. 22, 2002

International press coverage of the war on terrorism
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