International experts on fighting terrorism meet in Vienna this week to discuss developments in the struggle against Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The conference is being run by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has made fighting terrorism a major priority.
Munich, 21 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The young man with the portable missile launcher was hiding near a civilian airfield when police seized him as a probable terrorist.
European terrorist hunters declined to identify the country where he was seized because of the continuing investigation. But they suspect he could be part of the Al-Qaeda network.
So could a man detained in another country collecting abandoned radiological material, which antiterrorist experts believe were intended for a so-called "dirty bomb.”
These are among the problems to be discussed at a closed-door meeting of antiterrorist experts in Vienna on 23-24 June. The goal is to assess not only current terrorist activity in Europe, Central Asia. and surrounding states, but also to try to think a step ahead of international terrorism and consider what might come next.
The meeting was convened by the antiterrorist unit of the OSCE, whose 55 members include European and Central Asian countries plus the United States and Canada.
The United States is sending the deputy head of the Homeland Security Department, Admiral James Loy, to the conference, while the European Union will be represented by its newly appointed co-coordinator for combating terrorism, Gijs de Vries. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will also contribute ideas on how terrorists might strike next.
The head of OSCE's antiterrorism unit, Brian Woo, told RFE/RL that terrorist organizations appear to be using simpler technology to build their weapons: "Al-Qaeda and other global terrorist organizations demonstrate a savvy in exploiting technology. And what we see today, and what we are most concerned about, is what we may call techno-terrorism. These are groups which use modern technologies like the Internet, like utilizing off-the-shelf electronics and other materials -- whether it is chemical, biological, radiological, or even nuclear materials -- to fashion cheap and efficient and deadly devices."
Woo said antiterrorist experts believe Al-Qaeda and its affiliates might now be trying to develop a so-called dirty bomb, which combines conventional explosives, such as dynamite, with low-level radioactive materials.
"The idea is to blast radioactive material into the area around the explosion," Woo said. "It is in no way similar to a nuclear weapon. The main purpose is to frighten people and make buildings or land unusable for a long time."
Woo said the problem for terrorists is to obtain radioactive materials now that tighter security has been imposed around nuclear power plants. That was why the IAEA is deeply concerned that radiological materials such as strontium and cesium can be obtained illegally in some OSCE countries.
"Specifically, what is the threat? It is that we have radiological material such as cesium and strontium lying around in these countries that are abandoned in old irradiators that were used in agricultural equipment," Woo said. "These are the materials which we know Al-Qaeda and its affiliates are seeking to get their hands on in order to fashion a radiological dispersion device -- otherwise known as a dirty bomb."
Another problem expected to be discussed in Vienna this week is the use by terrorists of "man-pads" --- that is, portable missiles which can be fired from shoulder-held launchers. Terrorists used a man-pad in an unsuccessful attempt to down an Israeli airliner near the Kenyan city of Mombasa in November.
Woo said many of these weapons are small enough to fit inside a ski bag and could be carried easily across the open borders in western Europe or between the United States and Canada.
"We don't have a fix on the exact number [of man-pads], of course, but they are available on the black markets and there are a variety of models out there -- ranging from the older SA-7 models up to more fancy models that are deadly -- much deadlier."
This week's antiterrorist conference in Vienna will also discuss stronger security arrangements for cargo carried in containers. Statistics released by the UN suggests that around 90 percent of the world's cargo is transported in containers -- by sea, by the railways, or in trucks. The United States and Japan have taken the lead in developing technology to check cargo rapidly for illegal immigrants, drugs, and weapons, and the Vienna conference will urge European states to use Japanese expertise to do more.
The OSCE says the conference will also discuss the lessons learned from the terrorist attacks at a Madrid railway station in March that killed nearly 200 people. Diplomats emphasize that in that attack, the terrorists used conventional dynamite and ignored sophisticated technology. They argue that stiffer controls on storing explosives and more frequent checks on individuals could make it more difficult for terrorists to operate.