A new report from a UN expert group says a "third generation" of Al-Qaeda members has emerged and that the network continues to operate around the world with a high degree of mobility and financial support. The report notes some success in capturing top Al-Qaeda officials and breaking up their cells, but it says the group must still be considered a threat to international security. The report also finds no evidence linking Al-Qaeda to the former regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
United Nations, 27 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- UN experts responsible for monitoring sanctions against the Al-Qaeda terrorist group say it still poses a threat to global security and has shown skill in eluding counterterrorism efforts.
The UN panel released a report yesterday that draws disturbing conclusions from a series of terrorist attacks this spring in Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, Morocco, and Afghanistan.
It also reports the emergence of what it calls a "third generation" of Al-Qaeda, composed of young Muslim extremists recruited after the organization was ousted from its base in Afghanistan with the defeat of the Taliban.
The chairman of the five-person UN monitoring group, Michael Chandler, said this new generation was apparently responsible for the 17 May terrorist bombings in Casablanca, Morocco, in which 41 people were killed.
"Now we are seeing -- and we've quoted the case of Morocco -- when not one of the people who apparently was apparently involved in the Morocco attacks had been anywhere near Afghanistan, and yet they're picking up with the same ideology and wanting to behave and operate in the same sort of way," Chandler said.
The panel's report said older remnants of Al-Qaeda continue to be active, as well. It says terrorists trained in Afghanistan were among those responsible for the 13 May attacks on foreign residential compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that killed 34 people.
Chandler also told reporters that his group has seen no evidence indicating links between Al-Qaeda and the previous Iraqi regime, as alleged by U.S. officials. But he stressed it has left the issue to the U.S.-led coalition to pursue. He said his panel is investigating new reports of Al-Qaeda activity in Iran and is in contact with Iranian authorities.
The terrorist group has continued to receive funding from the illicit drug trade originating in Afghanistan, as well as from false charities and rich donors, said the panel, which was formed after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States. The group based its findings on reports from UN member states, which are mandated by the UN Security Council, as well as media reports and the experts' own investigations.
As a result of its latest findings, the group also has added for the first time the name of a Chechen to the list of Al-Qaeda members subject to various controls.
Chandler said there are connections between Al-Qaeda and Chechen rebels who have mounted a series of suicide attacks against Russian positions in recent months.
"There were definite links between people involved with Al-Qaeda who had worked through Bosnia on into Chechnya, and there are certain aspects in the way they operate -- that is, the Chechen rebel movement -- which is very similar to the way Al-Qaeda operates, with the suicide bombings," Chandler said.
The increase in attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan and the other attacks cited previously show that Al-Qaeda and associated terrorist groups have adequate supplies of weapons and ammunition wherever they need them, according to the report.
It also warns that there is a higher probability that the network will continue its efforts to develop an Improvised Radiological Dispersion Device -- also known as a "dirty bomb." Such devices are believed to have limited physical effects but a large psychological impact and possible long-term health consequences.
The expert group calls on UN member states to join the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. That includes states which have no domestic nuclear program but which could be used as transit routes for nuclear material.
Chandler said rigorous controls must be applied to all weapons of mass destruction. "We really must internationally redouble our efforts to assure that Al-Qaeda and its associates do not acquire nuclear, radiological, chemical, or biological weapons or materials," he said.
There has been success in apprehending some of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants, such as Khalid Shaykh Muhammad and Abu Zubayida. But the report says Muslim extremists still appear to be able to strike at targets of their choosing.
Chilean Ambassador Heraldo Munoz is chairman of the Security Council committee overseeing sanctions monitoring efforts. He said the council will hold an open meeting on 29 July to review the panel's report.
He appealed to member states to fulfill their obligation to report back to the council on their efforts to toughen controls against travel and funding for Al-Qaeda and Taliban members. "Only 56 member states have submitted reports, information in complying with Resolution 1455 out of 190-some member states. This [means that there] is still a long way ahead, a long road ahead of us in order to receive all the information we need from member states," Munoz said.