Terrorist attacks similar to those in the United States a decade ago are unlikely today, the EU’s counterterrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove said on Monday (September 5th). But the fight against al-Qaeda and organisations of this type still faces risks, he warned, citing the possibility of terrorist groups taking advantage of power vacuums in the wake of the Arab Spring revolts as one.
“Today an attack of the scale and sophistication of 9/11 is no longer possible,” de Kerchove said at a news conference in Brussels marking the 10th anniversary of the September 11th 2001 attacks in the United States. “Does it mean that we’re completely out of the threat? Probably not.”
Al-Qaeda has been significantly weakened by the killing of its leader, Osama bin Laden, in early May, the elimination of other senior members of the network and the financial problems it is believed to be facing, according to the EU official.
The NATO-led war in Afghanistan and the reinforced international co-operation in the wake of the 9/11 attacks also contributed to this, de Kerchove, a Belgian academic and former government official, said.
“Internally we are much better equipped today than we were ten years ago,” Reuters quoted him as telling reporters in Brussels. “That does not mean we will prevent all the plots, all the attacks, but we’ll try to be more efficient in preventing, in investigating and prosecuting terrorism and in minimising the consequence of the terrorist attack.”
News of a new blow to the once mighty organisation came from Pakistan also on Monday, when the country’s military announced the capture of three high-ranking al-Qaeda operatives in the southwestern city of Quetta. Among those detained by Pakistani agents, working in co-operation with the CIA, was Younis al-Mauritani, whose main responsibility was to plan attacks against Western countries’ interests across the globe.
“Al-Mauritani was tasked personally by Osama bin Laden to focus on hitting targets of economical importance in United States of America, Europe and Australia,” the Boston-based Global Post quoted the Pakistani military as saying in a statement. “He was planning to target United States economic interests including gas/oil pipelines, power generating dams and strike ships/oil tankers through explosive-laden speed boats in international waters.”
Although al-Qaeda no longer has the capacity to stage attacks similar in scope to the 9/11 ones, it is still able to carry out small-scale “opportunistic” actions, de Kerchove said on Monday.
The terrorist threat the world faces today has become “much more complex and much more diversified,” he told reporters in Brussels.
The EU counter-terrorism co-ordinator voiced concern that the current security vacuum in Libya might have allowed members of al-Qaeda’s North African branch to increase their arms arsenal by looting, including of surface-to-air missiles, potentially endangering air travel.
“They have had the possibility to have had access to weapons, including small arms and machine guns, or certain surface-to-air missiles which are extremely dangerous,” de Kerchove said.
Another issue of concern for him, according to the AFP, was “the dismantling of the security services in Tunisia and Egypt” in the wake of the anti-government protests that shook the two countries earlier this year.
“You cannot have a security vacuum,” de Kerchove said, urging to help the process of transition in such countries.