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Homeland Security

SLUG: 1-01356 OTL The War on Terrorism Progresses 07-11-03.rtf









Host: The war on terrorism. Next, On the Line.


Host: Two female suicide bombers killed over a dozen people at a Moscow rock concert. In Quetta, Pakistan, terrorists attacked a Shi'ite mosque during Friday prayers, killing more than fifty worshippers. In Iraq, remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime are using terrorist tactics against coalition forces, and against Iraqis trying to rebuild their country. Clearly, terrorists remain a deadly threat, but progress against terror networks is being made. Members of the al-Qaida affiliated Jemaah Islamiyah are on trial in Indonesia for the October 2002 bomb attacks in Bali. Also on trial is the man believed to be the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, Abu Bakar Bashir. He is being tried for his role in a string of Christmas eve, 2000, bomb attacks against Christian churches in Indonesia. In Saudi Arabia, police have arrested dozens of al-Qaida operatives after terrorist bombings rocked Riyadh in May. Such efforts, says President George W. Bush, are part of a global campaign against al-Qaida and other terrorist networks.


Bush: Of those directly involved in organizing the September the 11th attacks, almost all are now in custody or confirmed dead. Of the senior al-Qaida leaders, operational managers and key facilitators we have been tracking, sixty-five percent have been captured or killed. Still we recognize that al-Qaida has trained thousands of foot soldiers in many nations and that new leaders may emerge. And we suspect that some al-Qaida deserters will attach themselves to other terrorist groups in order to strike American targets. Terrorists that remain can be certain of this. We will hunt them by day and by night in every corner of the world until they are no longer a threat to America and our friends.

How goes the war on terrorism? I'll ask my guests: Thomas Sanderson, deputy director of the Transnational Threats Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Also joining us is author and defense analyst David Isby. Welcome and thanks for joining us. Thomas Sanderson, let's talk first about Indonesia. There were a lot of reports after September 11th, and after the war in Afghanistan, that Indonesia was becoming a sort of safe haven for al-Qaida remnants and operatives in southeastern Asia. Did the Bali bombings change that?

Sanderson: Certainly it added a lot of negative attention to any existing groups there, whether they were indigenous groups or whether they were al-Qaida or other international groups. So, they may have struck at a group, struck at Americans, Australians, and others, and succeeded in killing two-hundred people, but it certainly brought some negative attention, and eventually these arrests on their own organization.

Host: David Isby, how much have we learned about Jemaah Islamiyah and its ties to al-Qaida through the investigation and now trial in Indonesia?

Isby: I think we've seen a good deal in this and similar activities in Singapore, and we see here the idea of al-Qaida linking up with local groups, and a lot indeed of the problem is that they can make -- through groups like Jemaah [Islamiyah] -- they can have links further on to groups such as the people in Aceh in northern Sumatra, which is a guerrilla group, or even in normal criminal groups, people working in Southeast Asia. So, this perhaps is not only vulnerability, but part of the secret of the continued resilience of terrorist networks.

Host: Thomas Sanderson, is Jemaah Islamiyah still a going concern, or are they being largely dismantled now?

Sanderson: With the recent arrests, they're certainly being dismantled, but again, with al-Qaida and any other group, it's very difficult to tell what the membership is, where they're located, [and] what their resources are. And you're never really sure if a group is coming or going in terms of their influence.

Isby: I mean, this is not a country like Singapore where they do have strong security services. Not a lot of effort has been made in closing front organizations. In fact, in Singapore, they have them there, [and in] Indonesia. These people tend to be relatively open societies. They depend a lot on trade, and because of that terrorists, even those with links outside the region, look there for support for their activities.

Sanderson: If you look at countries like Israel and, as again David mentioned, Singapore, with very strong internal security and a population that's generally pro-American, it's even difficult there. Then you transpose that onto a place like Indonesia, with fifteen-thousand islands, with a large Muslim population, that may not be very supportive of the United States, it's much more difficult. If Israel and Singapore can't do it one hundred percent, then it's much more difficult in Indonesia.

Host: David Isby, do the attitudes of the people within the country make a large difference [as to] how sheltered an environment the terrorists find in a given country?

Isby: I think so. And I think this is one of the things, since nine-eleven, at the grassroots level, there is less sympathy for terrorists after things like nine-eleven and after the Bali bombings. We see this not just in Indonesia, but worldwide. People may have been sympathetic to [Usama] bin Laden before nine-eleven when he appeared to be a champion of the little guy being persecuted by a big dumb United States. People in Indonesia know what the bodies look like. They've seen it in ethnic violence. They've seen it in guerrilla movements on many islands. So no one wants to see people killed for a generic or specific political cause, so I think that that has undercut the sympathies for terrorism.

Host: Thomas Sanderson, let's move to talk about Saudi Arabia a little bit and on this point that David Isby brings up, that perhaps the attacks within a country make more of an impact than nine-eleven and an attack against the U-S would in terms of public attitudes. Has the attack in Saudi Arabia been a wake-up call for Saudi society?

Sanderson: The attack is different from the previous attack against Khobar towers and against the American commercial contractors of whom five or six were killed in car bombings.

Host: These were previous attacks in Saudi Arabia that specifically targeted either U-S forces or formers?

Sanderson: The largest of course being the one against the Khobar towers in which nineteen airmen died. This one goes to the heart of Saudi society in that it killed both Saudis and Americans and other Westerners who were conducting business there. Remember that the per capita income in Saudi Arabia has dropped incredibly. So, to strike at this lifeblood of Saudi Arabia, the links to the outside business world, hits them pretty hard. Of course, this occurred in the environment of nine-eleven in which U-S senators were pushing for separation between the United States and Saudi Arabia and for cutting off aid. None of that was being discussed before nine-eleven. It was a very strong alliance, it's crumbling and there are a lot of people rushing to try to salvage this relationship.

Host: David Isby, did the attack in Riyadh change attitudes among Saudis because Saudis were killed?

Isby: I think that was a very large part of it because Saudis were killed, and because Saudi Arabia has to go on the world market. If they can't do that, they're not economically viable. This is hitting the individual Saudi where they live. This perhaps has also brought home that there is going to be a cost for the deterioration of U-S Saudi relations in the last few years. This may indeed lead to impetus in the next year or so to efforts to rebuild the relationship.

Host: Thomas Sanderson, before the attacks in Riyadh, there were Saudi officials saying, "There's no al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia. If there are, there are only maybe a dozen people." After the attacks in Riyadh, there have been arrests in Saudi Arabia of something like fifty people. Has it expanded the ability to see people who are engaged in activities with al-Qaida?

Sanderson: It seems to have brought dramatic clarity to Saudi vision of what's going on. Clearly, this problem has always been there. They've acknowledged it privately, often behind doors. They've worked better with the United States than they do out in the open public. This attack is different and they do realize that al-Qaida is moving about and perhaps setting up serious shop in Saudi Arabia. Again, the Saudi government has always felt a degree of vulnerability. There's always been an uneasy truce with the Sawa office, [with] the Wahabbi clergy, and Saudi Arabia. So, they realize that combining that with a reluctant United States and several senators who are pushing for a change in their relationship means that some day, they have to wake up.

Host: David Isby, is this a blow to al-Qaida to have a crackdown in Saudi Arabia?

Isby: I think it certainly helps - not just a public crackdown but if the Saudis are working now behind the scenes especially with issues like money-transferring or even just of individuals. A lot of their money has come from non-governmental individuals in Saudi Arabia, and these are people who can be reached quietly by the royal family, by the security services, things like banking regulation. There are many things the Saudis can do behind the scenes that can hurt al-Qaida without getting them denounced in the mosques on Fridays.

Host: Thomas Sanderson, let's move over to Pakistan, where there was recent attack that killed about fifty people at a mosque during Friday's prayers. Is this a return to sectarian violence that has been going on in Pakistan for some time, or is it an expansion of terrorist activities into the broader part of Pakistani society?

Sanderson: I think that there has always been sectarian violence there. The focus, at least from the perspective of the U.S. media, has been on attacks against U.S. forces or against Western individuals -- civilians. With this very significant attack against Shi'ites, it's very important, and it does show a re-emergence of the sectarian violence and this is very important because of what's going on to the west of them, in Iran and Iraq. The re-empowerment of Shia in Iraq may be threatening Sunnis in other places. So you could see not just Pakistan having this problem, but region-wide a Sunni-Shia conflict.

Isby: There's been very much an interest in doing that, largely in Afghanistan. There was a great interest in the remnants of al-Qaida and the Taleban, with violence against Afghanistan by Shias -- primarily Hazara, who largely support the government of [Hamid] Karzai, even though they like their own autonomy. So these people are very much opponents of the Taleban and the remnants of al-Qaida. They'd like to see it spread across the board into Afghanistan.

Host: Thomas Sanderson, does this kind of attack within Pakistan give extra impetus to Pervez Musharraf's efforts to crack down the remnants of al-Qaida in Pakistan, or does it just complicate those efforts?

Sanderson: It certainly complicates things. If anyone's walking a tightrope in this world, it's Pervez Musharraf who, of course, was recently in the United States. He's in a tremendously difficult position. The northwestern frontier provinces are ruled by extremists. Twenty percent of the seats in the legislature are held by extremists. This is presenting another headache on top of the one he already had with al-Qaida.

Isby: There is a more fundamental question: "What is the future of civil society in Pakistan?" The future of Pakistan has largely just been chased down the road. After nine-eleven, when Musharraf stood against the extremists, and the American forces came, it looked for a while that he was going to use the moment for that to build something. He's talked about closing or regulating madrassas. Since the referendum, the momentum seems to have gone. There is still the unresolved issue of Kashmir -- indeed, no sign of progress there -- and the Pakistanis don't see too much benefit for their part in the war on terror.

Host: Thomas Sanderson, you mentioned that many of the officials of al-Qaida have found refuge in the northwestern part of Pakistan. How many are there, and what are they able to do, other than hiding?

Sanderson: I think that there is the largest concentration of former al-Qaida operatives and leaders. In Afghanistan, U-S forces have freedom of mobility. They can go where they want. The special forces have free rein to operate. In Pakistan, they don't. They can go into those areas that border Afghanistan, so it's easy to switch over the border. Then, when they get in Pakistan, there are people who haven't seen Pakistani government forces or officials. There was a long-standing agreement for them to stay out of there. They ran their own operation, and there are people who are ethnically, politically, and ideologically aligned with those coming from al-Qaida. There is a large number of them. My director has asserted that al-Qaida is bin Laden has been in Peshawar, and I think that there is a number of people, there have been arrests of people there. I think that's certainly where the bees scattered after the hive was kicked in October of 2001.

Host: How active is al-Qaida in the Pakistani province? Are they able to mount operations?

Isby: One good thing is that they can embed

themselves with other groups such as the Taleban, or even Sipah-e-Sahaba, which is an anti-Shia terrorist group that is probably responsible for the Quetta atrocity. Because they can fund these groups and use their networks, they can assume protective coloration that they will, even though, in many cases, as Arabs and foreigners, they would otherwise be vulnerable.

Host: Thomas Sanderson, President Bush said that thirty-five percent of the structure of the senior al-Qaida is alive and running, but thousands of foot soldiers have been trained in the Afghanistani camps and dispersed around the world. How much of a threat do those foot soldiers pose at this point?

Sanderson: I think they pose a significant threat. They're a ready supply of operatives, men and women, who will carry out smaller scale attacks and perhaps larger scale attacks against the interests of the U-S and others. I know the numbers are anywhere between five and ten thousand and maybe up to fifteen thousand went to the camps. Who knows how many have been attracted since the United States went into Iraq with the U-K. I think they have scattered. This is a very malleable, very savvy, and adjustable organization, Al-Qaida, if it can be called an organization. I don't think we've heard the last of them, and I think those people are ready to move and ready to operate on their own initiative.

Host: David Isby, are they ready to operate on their own initiative?

Isby: Because of their cell organization, [in spite of] the dispersal, they do have recuperative powers. Whether they're ready is a different thing. Certainly, we have not seen major terrorist atrocities against quote unquote hard targets. They've been forced to things like the Bali nightclub or the attack on the synagogue in Tunisia, [that are] economic or soft targets in places [with which] the local population had no problem. They're an organization that's able to strike at the heart of what they see as an oppressive United States' or global system.

Host: Thomas Sanderson, let's talk a little bit of the financing of terrorist activities. There was a recent article in the New York Times. It was talking about terrorism coming out of the Palestinian territories that had a quote from a leader of Fatah, Samir al-Masharawi. "After September eleventh, the Palestinian resistance lost its international support, and after the Iraqi war, the Palestinian authority lost its Arab support." Is this evidence that when one can restrict the amount of money that's going into terrorist activities that it can cut down on the number of terrorists' attacks?

Sanderson: I think it can cut down, but I liken the effort of financing terrorist groups to the efforts to stop narcotics from coming into the United States. One can only do so much. People will find a way around it. People will be able to avoid the sophisticated financial tools that the United States uses and go with the Howala system, the informal system of exchanging money. At some point and in some way, people find a way to get men, material and other equipment to these operatives. There's simply no way one could completely cut the funds to these people.

Isby: Terrorism is relatively cheap. One doesn't have to transfer money. Suitcases of dollars work fine.

Host: Well, David Isby, from captured intercepts and e-mails from al-Qaida terrorists who have been operating in Afghanistan, there seems to be a lot of evidence the terrorists had to operate outside of normal financial systems, and that that did put pressure on the organization to have basic accounting controls.

[simultaneous talking]

Isby: Oh, it was very hard. We saw back from the nine-eleven highjackers wanting to make sure with the funds they left over. Even when the money flow was there, they didn't have a lot of money. That's one of the reasons why the loss of Afghanistan was very important. It helped to have a country that they basically controlled through the Taleban regime. That really helped. This is why the money situation in Saudi Arabia and in the U-A-E [the United Arab Emirates] is key in the long term because if the money is cut, then you've got to wait and see them make mistakes, [raising] funds. They can't operate covertly in their cells quite as much.

Host: David Sanderson, after the Riyadh bombings, has the climate in Saudi Arabia changed enough that financial controls are being significantly changed?

Sanderson: I don't have my finger on the pulse on the financial situation of Saudi Arabia, but I do know that it's consistently been one of the largest supporters of Hamas and other groups, primarily based on wealthy individuals and non-profit, religious organizations that have been funneling money to these groups. With each attack and each increasing level of pressure that the United States puts on Saudi Arabia, the amount of money coming out of Saudi Arabia or traveling through will drop. Again, it only takes a small amount of money to attack. The attack on the U-S-S Cole [cost] ten-thousand dollars.

Host: David Isby, we only have about twenty seconds left. If the money spigot is cut in Saudi Arabia, is that it for the Middle East, or are there other countries?

Isby: There're many others, especially throughout the [Persian] Gulf -- the Emirates -- and it's a flexible system. It can come in from exiles and, indeed, taxation of people from similar communities. It's a first step, but there's a lot more to be done.

Host: I'm afraid that's going to have to be the last word for today. We're out of time. I'd like to thank my guests: Thomas Sanderson from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and author and defense analyst David Isby. My name is Eric Felten, and I'd like to thank you for watching the show. If you have e-mail questions, you can send them to: On the Line at I-B-B dot g-o-v.

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