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Apart a Network of Terror
The 'Sleepers' Are Among
Bitzan, Die Presse (conservative), Vienna, Austria, Jan.
after the American bombardment of Afghanistan began in early
October, there were many warnings that more terror attacks throughout
the West could be expected. Then Ramadan came and more warnings
were issued. But once again, nothing happened.
On Christmas, St. Peters Dome was not blown up, as was
feared, and on New Years Day there were no spectacular
attacks. What went wrong? Did the heads of the global secret
service agencies exaggerate the threat in order to win bigger
budgets for their organizations? Did security measures, greatly
strengthened after Sept. 11, actually work? Or has the foundation
of terrorism, the Al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan,
been so shattered that it no longer poses
Experts on terrorism agree that it was some of each. But at
the same time, they caution us not to underestimate the threat,
even though not much has happened yet. Al-Qaeda remains
dangerous, says, for example, Habib al-Adli, Egypts
minister of the interior. And the acting assistant director
of the FBIs anti-terrorism division, J.T. Caruso, echoes
his warnings about Al-Qaeda, and presents some real numbers
as well: As many as 80,000 people may have been trained in Afghanistan
under Bin Laden.
It is true that the number of people capable of carrying out
terror attacks in the West is just a few hundred. But they pose
a great threat. Caruso, incidentally, believes that the danger
is more from minor attacks than from any spectacular
event like that at the World Trade Center.
Shoe-bomber Richard Reid is the latest example of
how terrorism is still hovering over us. Reid, a British convert
to Islam, aroused the suspicions of French airport security
agents in Paris just before Christmas, but ended up being allowed
to board an airliner. If it had not been for an alert stewardess,
he might have been able to detonate the plastic explosives he
had hidden in the soles of his shoes.
Reid did set off alarm bells among the security agencies, forafter
initial reports that he was acting aloneit was revealed
that he was connected to Bin Laden. Reid had come into contact
with the terrorists in one of the London mosques that for years
has been the site of radical activity. The extremist activities
in these mosques were so widespread that clerics within the
Muslim community went to alert the police.
Zacarias Moussaoui, a 33-year-old French citizen of Moroccan
descent, also passed through one of these mosques. He is now
facing trial in the United States. He was allegedly active in
the preparations for the terror attacks there.
The agents learned a great deal about the beliefs and methods
of the Al-Qaeda terrorists from another source: Jamal Beghal,
from France, was arrested at the end of July in Dubaifor
having a counterfeit visa. Beghal tried to save his skin and
began to sing. Dozens of agents were put to work
following up on the information he provided. But before the
pieces of the puzzle could be put together, Sept. 11 came around....
Beghal is a typical example of how radical Islamists in Europe
can be transformed into assistants to terrorists. He grew up
in France, but never forgot his North African Muslim roots.
He eventually became an activist and was recruited by Al-Qaeda
But it was no accident that Beghal ended up being arrested.
He had been watched by French security agencies for a long time.
Paris, after all, has had to deal with Arab terrorists for a
long time, and has devoted major resources to the task. For
example: While American agencies do not even have enough translators
to work on classical Arabic, the French have separate interpreter
divisions for each of the 20 Arabic dialects spoken in Algeria.
Many of the radical Islamists living in the West are hard to
detect. They reside here for many years as sleepers,
meaning that they behave as normal individuals until they get
the call from their leaders. Then they form small
groups, carry out a task, and the group dissolves again.
The experts analyzing the Al-Qaeda network have also discovered
that units in different countries were given different tasks.
While London, for example, was, and perhaps still is, responsible
for recruitment and logistics, the groups in German cities specialize
in financing the organization, while in Belgium and Spain, the
members work on creating and providing counterfeit documents.
In recent weeks, people have been tracked downpicked up
because of suspicions that they were connected to Bin Ladens
organizationin several European countries: Spain, Italy,
Holland, Belgium, and Germany. Apparently at least 50 people,
helpers of helpers of Bin Laden, have been taken in for interrogation.
But the authorities are not providing details. And the documents
that were found in abandoned Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan are
giving the experts new things to worry about as well. Many of
them reveal very detailed plans for additional attacks in the
West. But the documents also show that Al-Qaeda could have counted
on help from many sympathizers in the West. Until now all that
was known was that a handful of Americans, Australians, and
Germans had fought with the Taliban. But there are now reports
coming from London that there were at least 40 British Al-Qaeda
fighters. There is even greater concern in Paris, for apparently
there are about 100 Frenchmenmostly of North African originin
the Al-Qaeda network. Most of them seem to have escaped. According
to a high-ranking intelligence officer in Paris, They
did not flee to Pakistan in order to check out the mosques.
They will be looking for ways to get back to Europe in order
to set off more bombs here.
A recently published document gave grounds for more worry: The
letter is supposed to have been written by one of Bin Ladens
closest colleagues. If a military defeat looms before
us, then the movement (Al-Qaeda) must bring as many members
as possible to safety. Some must stay behind and fight to
the death. If they know that key members of the movement have
escaped and will be able to carry on the fight somewhere else,
at another time, then they can die without fear.