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Last Updated: Friday, 2 May, 2003, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
War on terror: Has the tide turned?

Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

US President George W Bush's claim that "we have seen the turning of the tide" in the war on terror is not universally accepted.

His own state department has implicity challenged it, and Western security experts have openly rejected it.

Mr Bush was careful in his statement on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln not to declare victory in the war on terror, but he came close.

George W Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln
The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror...The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that still goes on
President Bush

And in declaring an end to major combat operations in Iraq, he made another attempt to link Saddam Hussein's regime to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

"No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more," he said.

Indeed, the president presented the war in Iraq not as one fought primarily over weapons of mass destruction, but against terrorism.

"The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror... The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that still goes on."

But he could not resist the temptation to use the turning of the tide image and it is this which is a potential hostage to fortune.

The US state department was at the same time releasing its annual Patterns of Global Terrorism report for 2002.

In introducing the report, the US Co-ordinator for Counterterrorism Ambassador, Cofer Black, using a slightly different turning metaphor, spoke about progress made but said clearly: "It is not to say that we have turned the corner."

While Mr Bush stressed that the defeat of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq was part, in his view, of the war on terror, Ambassador Cofer chose to dwell on actions against al-Qaeda.

He said that more than 300 al-Qaeda suspects were in prison after arrests in more than 100 countries, and that cells had been eliminated in places as far apart as Singapore and Italy. $134m in suspect funds had been frozen in the United States and a further $20m worldwide.

'Simplistic'

While Ambassador Black was circumspect, Alex Standish, the outspoken editor of Jane's Intelligence Digest, described Mr Bush's statement as "very premature and over-simplistic".

There is a new kind of westernised young man, fluent in languages, able to travel on international documents and filled with ideological and religious fervour
Alex Standish
Jane's Intelligence Digest

"One has to divorce Iraq from the war on terror as it was originally launched," he said. "The real war is against non-government operatives. There is evidence that al-Qaeda and remnants of the Taleban are still active. It is simplistic to say that there has been a turning point."

Mr Standish said that the causes of Islamic militancy still existed and might even be strengthened by the war in Iraq. "The problem with these speeches is that politicians tend to tell the public what it wants to hear."

And a new breed of activists had emerged, he said, as had become further evident with the alleged role of two young British Muslims in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

"There is a new kind of westernised young man, fluent in languages, able to travel on international documents and filled with ideological and religious fervour.

"In Britain, the security services and police have been extremely slack in their monitoring of extremist groups. They do not have the language experts.

"Some websites in Arabic are full of calls to kill Americans and Jews. But the police can't read them so they cannot be used to launch prosecutions for incitement.

"The British Government is rightly reluctant to stereotype people, as happened with the Irish in the 1970s, but this means that there is a lack of information."

In his aircraft carrier speech, President Bush also gave a warning that any other country which "has ties to terrorist groups and seeks or possesses weapons of mass destruction is a grave danger to the civilised world - and will be confronted".

So, whether the tide has turned or not, the war continues on a number of fronts.




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