Global officials say threat from al-Qaida still serious
Tuesday, May 6, 2003
PARIS -- The al-Qaida terror network remains a serious threat, with sleeper cells and agents who "are always ready to act," the world's top justice and interior ministers said Monday.
"Terrorism continues to present both a pervasive and global threat to our societies," ministers from the Group of Eight nations said in a statement.
They also warned of a risk that terrorists may use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in attacks.
"We must address ways to anticipate and respond to such threats," the statement said.
The ministers also said al-Qaida still appeared to have terrorist bases.
"The threat from the al-Qaida network remains serious," the ministers said. "In spite of the elimination of most of its bases in Afghanistan, it seems that other camps have been reactivated in other areas."
The statement gave no details. But French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said al-Qaida apparently set up new operational bases in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and Russia's Chechnya region.
The ministers said al-Qaida's "abilities have been shaken" by recent arrests, but added, "Dormant individuals and cells are always ready to act."
Keeping guard up
The G8 ministers said they were determined to strengthen cooperation between their police forces and intelligence services to thwart potential terrorist attacks.
"We don't expect to lower our guard for a long time," said Sarkozy, host of the one-day meeting that was a prelude to the June 1-3 summit of the Group of Eight -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States -- in the French Alpine town of Evian.
"All the G8 countries have a similar analysis: The terrorist threat is real, it's still present and apparently, alas, for a long time to come," Sarkozy said.
He dismissed concern that a bitter trans-Atlantic dispute between France and the United States over the war in Iraq may have undermined international cooperation in antiterror efforts.
"French-American cooperation never stopped because it concerns the security of our citizens," he said. "Those disagreements (over Iraq) are real but that does not necessitate disaccord on the fight against terrorism."
Attorney General John Ashcroft attended the meeting but not a later news conference.
British Home Secretary David Blunkett agreed that the terrorist threat remains undiminished, but said the ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime had dealt terrorism a blow.
"Whilst we've removed one threat in relation to Iraq, a rogue state, and we've obviously damaged the morale of those who were able to draw on the tacit support of the regime, the network out there remains a problem," Blunkett told The Associated Press.
Sarkozy said the ministers also agreed to try to combat the forgery of travel documents and passports by using fingerprints and iris scanning.
But they disagreed on which would be most effective, so France and the United States will lead a study of the issue, Sarkozy said.