Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Where Next? Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Argentina: Western Diplomats Warn That These and Many Other Countries Could Spawn Atrocities. Are Two Fronts Enough for Bush's War on Terrorism? (Cover Story)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Where Next? Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Argentina: Western Diplomats Warn That These and Many Other Countries Could Spawn Atrocities. Are Two Fronts Enough for Bush's War on Terrorism? (Cover Story)

Article excerpt

You haven't heard of Takhir Yuldash. You may well do soon. The leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan operates from a secret location in Pakistan and has eluded US special forces hunting him. In May, he told villagers in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan: "Even if only one Muslim is left alive it will be a victory. We need to erase America from the face of the earth."

The bombing in Bali tells us that people like Yuldash matter. Nowhere in the world is now safe from the threat of terrorism, or impervious to the policies that may have given rise to it.

Shortly before the attack on the nightclub in Kuta, I talked to a senior British diplomat. We discussed Iraq, and then I asked him what other areas of the world he was concerned about. He gave me a compelling tour d'horizon of the next flashpoints. From Indonesia and the neighbouring Philippines to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, from central Asia to the Maghreb, from the failed states of Somalia and Sudan to Turkey, and the imploding economies of South America, you find ingredients for the next acts of terrorism.

These countries are only the start. Yet since his "axis of evil" speech, George W Bush has focused most attention on one state: Iraq. Despite the best efforts of his intelligence chiefs, he has failed to produce evidence that links Saddam with the destruction of the World Trade Center or with any subsequent attack.

While Bush and the ideologues around him prepare for war against a lone government, they have failed to see that it is nongovernmental terrorist cells that pose the biggest threat. Since 11 September last year, intelligence agencies believe, there have been more than a dozen acts of terrorism linked to al-Qaeda. Some have caught the headlines (usually the ones in which the casualties have included Britons and Americans). Others have not. They all lend credence to warnings in Whitehall that the White House is failing to combat the threat and has not begun to address the root causes. According to the British, the Americans are also way behind in intelligence gathering.

The first area of concern is Saudi Arabia, birthplace of 15 of the 19 original hijackers. The country represents a terrible dilemma for the Americans and British. Whatever the corruption and mismanagement of the royal family (average per capita income has fallen by nearly two-thirds over the past two decades), any transfer of power -- by democratic or other means -- would put even more fundamentalist Wahhabis in charge. Kuwait already seems out of control, with two shootings of American soldiers.

The Yemeni coast was the scene of the recent attack on a French oil tanker -- a mirror image of the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000. The Americans and British have to keep a very low profile in Yemen for fear of assassination or kidnap. In the early 1990s, with CIA help, Yemen became a haven for "Arab Afghans" -- Muslim volunteers from various countries who used it as a base against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. Now there are said to be at least three guns per person in the country. Yemen is one of several "failed states", where weak or non-existent central government has left a perfect vacuum for networks such as al-Qaeda. Somalia and Sudan are two more examples.

The most immediate threat of a terrorist strike within Europe itself may come from the Maghreb. The French in particular are alarmed about the popularity of fundamentalists in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. They are furious with the British for what they see as a failure to crack down on Islamic clerics, many of them Algerian, operating from the Finsbury Park mosque in north London. In French diplomatic circles, they call it "Londonistan". The conspiracy theory -- that Britain is showing tolerance at home to head off bombings on its own soil -- is reinforced by the UK's long-standing refusal to extradite Rachid Ramda, an Algerian wanted for trial in France for bombings on the Paris Metro in 1995, which killed eight people. …

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