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Experts say bin Laden still top terror threat

Peter Bergen: “That ideological movement [Al-Qaeda], unfortunately, was helped by the Iraq war, which increased anti-American sentiment around the world.”
4:37 p.m., Nov. 19, 2004--A successful war against terrorism requires a comprehensive approach that would combine good intelligence with integrated efforts at home, bring U.S. allies together and reach out to the more than 1.3 billion Muslims around the world, Lee Hamilton, a former congressman who was vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, said at the University of Delaware.

Hamilton and Peter Bergen--a broadcast journalist who worked for ABC News and CNN and interviewed terror mastermind Osama bin Laden in 1997--were the featured speakers at UD’s Global Community Initiative lecture series on Thursday, Nov. 18.

Ralph Begleiter, Rosenberg Professor of Communication and Distinguished Journalist in Residence, who organized the series and moderated the talk, introduced the discussion with a series of questions about the whereabouts and activities of bin Laden and posed the question, “With all the money we spend on security, why do many Americans feel so naked to the threat of terror?”

“There is a kind of conventional wisdom that it doesn’t really matter if we get bin Laden right now, that he’s sort of out of it,” Bergen said. “That conventional wisdom is dead wrong.”

Bergen, who has visited Afghanistan and Pakistan several times over the last few years, said Al-Qaeda, bin Laden’s terror network, has morphed into an ideological movement that has a large following around the world.

“That ideological movement, unfortunately, was helped by the Iraq war, which increased anti-American sentiment around the world,” Bergen said. “We see from the last year’s terrorism report that last year there were more significant terrorist attacks than any since 1982.”

Bergen said the video and audio tapes that have been released by bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders provide a chain of custody that, if pursued, could lead to the most wanted terrorist in the world. He caused laughter when he cited the growing reward for bin Laden, beginning with $5 million before the 9/11 attacks to $25 million and $50 million, and suggested that the bounty be raised to $1 billion.

“We are spending $1 billion every three days in Iraq, why not just shake the trees and see if that would have any effect,” Bergen said.

Lee Hamilton: “My view is that American foreign policy has to let these billion Muslims know we are on their side. We want for them a better life. We want for them a decent opportunity.”
The journalist said the background of Al-Qaeda members and their chain of command makes it very unlikely that anyone within the ranks would betray the leadership for any amount of money.

“These guys have spent their entire adult lives in organizations that prize secrecy and discipline and, even if we found a very high level member of Al-Qaeda tomorrow, the likelihood that he would actually pinpoint where bin Laden is, I think, somewhat unlikely.”

Hamilton cautioned against a false sense of security based on the fact that there has been no terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11 and added that, in addition to military action and good intelligence, American foreign policy needs to counter the ideology that breeds terrorism and share the task with allies.

“We cannot possibly rout that enemy out alone,” Hamilton said. “We can’t do it by ourselves. As smart as we are, as intelligent as we are, as rich as we are, we need help. You cannot secure your own skies without securing international aviation. You cannot track down terrorism financing without dealing with the Saudi bankers. You cannot get the best intelligence without intelligence reporting from our international partners.”

Hamilton said the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission were a good road map for the “generational challenge” ahead, but he pointed out that one of the great challenges to American policy is how to reach out to Muslims around the world and avoid a clash of civilizations.

“My view is that American foreign policy has to let these billion Muslims know we are on their side,” Hamilton said. “We want for them a better life. We want for them a decent opportunity.”

Article by Martin Mbugua
Photos by Greg Drew

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