EU: Call for a new intelligence centre to be set up
- Spanish intelligence knew that the government's "support of the military intervention in Iraq by the United States and its Allies constitutes without doubt a further risk factor for Spain"
The Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, has called for the EU to set up a new "intelligence centre" in the wake of the Madrid bombings. This would, he suggests, play a coordinating role by bringing together member state police, security, intelligence agencies and Europol and by sharing intelligence make an analysis of the terrorist threat. The Netherlands and Austrian governments are said to back the idea.
Mr Verhofstadt is quoted as saying that Europol has not succeeded in providing a "coherent" anti-terrorist policy (eupolitix.com). According to the Financial Times an internal report published just before the Madrid bombings, prepared by Mr Solana's team wrote:
"A number of instruments exist already within the Union to improve operational co-operation and co-ordination. They are however badly used, ratification of conventions is slow and the instruments are poorly used and/or poorly understood by law enforcement and judicial authorities in some member states."
This argument appears to carry some weight as Europol has had responsibility for terrorism since July 1999 when it became "operational". All member states supplied experts on terrorism. In 2000 Europol opened a "Analysis work file" on "extremist Islamic terrorism" in the EU. After the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001 EU Justice Ministers agreed on the creation of "a team of counter-terrorist specialists in Europol with member states appointing liaison officers from their police and intelligence services" (Europol itself already had seven counter-terrorist officers).
On 3 December 2003 Europol published a "Non-confidential report on terrorist activity in the European Union from October 2002 to October 2003, full-text: 15877/2/02 (pdf). The assessment provided by Spanish police and intelligence to the Europol report on "Islamic extremist terrorism" reads as follows:
The various terrorist groups comprising the so-called Islamic World Front (under the leadership of al Qaeda, as well as the advocates of internationalisation of Jihad on a global scale, continue to pose the greatest threat to our interests as well as to the interests of the other EU Member States. The Spanish Governments support of the military intervention in Iraq by the United States and its Allies constitutes without doubt a further risk factor for Spain, even though it might not be the most decisive or dangerous one.
In this sense, the attack targeting the Spanish Cultural Institute Casa de España in Casablanca (Morocco) could possibly be related not only to the armed conflict in Iraq, but also to other factors, notably the campaign carried out in the course of the last few months by radical Islamist groups (including Assirat Al Moustaquim and other currents connected to Salafia Jihadiya), targeting the western life style and moral decay and reverting to violent actions against persons who are considered to have strayed from the righteous path and places such as entertainment centres or places where alcohol is being sold.
On the other hand, the detention of two Moroccan citizens involved in the Casablanca suicide attack emphasizes the growing presence of radical Muslim elements in particular mosques, Koran centres etc., using these locations as clandestine centres for developing various activities, mainly logistic and financial tasks related to radical Islamism professing international Jihad (procurement, accommodation, obtaining economic resources, propaganda, diffusion of extremist ideas...) At the same time, it has to be pointed out that the amount of travelling and mutual visits throughout various European countries gives evidence of the narrow ties and relations that go beyond common
positions on an ideological level.
The dismantlement of the al Qaeda financial network has not only proved to be a very important step representing a heavy blow to the logistic and financial infrastructure of the organization, but also revealed details of the financing operations concerning planning and conducting of the attack targeting the synagogue in Djerba (Tunisia), as well as connections to members of the group commanded by Mohamed Atta, who were detected in Spain and who fled the country shortly before the attacks of 11th September.
The stance taken by our country regarding the support of the military intervention in Iraq has, indeed, caused great animosity in the Palestine population of the Occupied Territories as well as in various Islamic countries In some cases, during manifestations protesting against the military invasion of Iraq the slogans were directed not only against the USA and the United Kingdom, but also against Spain. In one of the manifestations the photograph of José María Aznar was included among the national leaders constituting the Axis of Evil directed against the Arab world.
The perpetration of the recent attacks in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) and Casablanca (Morocco), and the risk of terrorist attacks being perpetrated in particular geographical areas (South East Asia, Maghrib, Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula) lead to assume that armed Islamist groups tend to intensify the number of violent attacks of as well as the destructive effects of these attacks. These would most probably be spectacular, blind, murderous, and indiscriminate terrorist actions intended to cause the highest possible number of victims.
Concerning the modus operandi, suicide attack will probably continue to be the first choice, as can be concluded from the directives given by Number 2 of al Qaeda, Ayman al Zawahiri, in audio tape broadcast by Al Jazeera.
While the audio tape mentioned above did explicitly allude to damaging the interests of the USA, United Kingdom, Australia and Norway, as well as calling for armed attacks against the Jews, Ayman al Zawahiri challenged the Muslims to expel the Americans and other invaders from their respective countries which amounts to say that every Western country could become a victim of violent attacks.
On the other hand, the fact that the majority of Western countries have enhanced and/or tightened their security measures protecting particular potential targets (diplomatic legations, airports, ports, nuclear plants, merchandise transports, military facilities...) could lead the terrorists to revert to attacking "soft" targets (hotels, tourist facilities, cultural, economic or historic buildings of symbolic character etc.) as well as using conventional methods to minimize possible practical complications at the moment of perpetrating the attack.
Finally, it has to be pointed out that, bearing in mind the insisting proclamations of Ayman al Zawahiri referring to the necessity of expelling foreigners from Muslim countries, and the threats directed at the Western countries mentioned above, the risk of perpetrating attacks targeted against various Peacekeeping missions conducted by Western countries in geographical conflict zones like Iraq or Afghanistan has to be considered as high and growing. Beyond that, other Arab countries could become the scene of attacks directed against Western interests as Ayman al Zawahiri explicitly accused Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan of "opening their lands, their air space and their territorial waters to crusader troops that invaded Iraq".
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