Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: EU Counterterrorism, Afghan Microfinancing, And The 11 September Commission

Prague, 24 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and debate in the press today addresses the EU's antiterrorism policies; slow but steady progress in Bosnia; improving the lives of Afghan women; and the targeted assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder and spiritual leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Attention also centers on this week's public hearings in the United States on the intelligence failures that led to the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.


A "Washington Post" editorial today discusses pre-11 September intelligence failures, as a commission investigating the 2001 attacks enters its second day of testimony from top U.S. administration officials.

The "Post" says the "central finding" that has emerged from the investigations is that the presidential administrations of both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton "failed to take adequate measures against the Al-Qaeda network or to fully appreciate the menace that it posed."

As early as 1995, the Clinton administration had identified Osama bin Laden as a threat to U.S. interests, but "years of efforts to kill or extradite him failed," while an internal debate raged over what to do about his base in Afghanistan throughout the administration's last year and a half in power.

The Bush team, "initially focused on other priorities, eventually agreed on a more aggressive policy -- but only days before 11 September 2001. Few officials in either administration saw Al-Qaeda as the most important emerging threat to U.S. security."

Now a "blistering critique" of Bush administration policy from former White House counterterrorism specialist Richard Clarke is being debated in Washington. Clarke served in both the Bush and Clinton administrations, and his allegations have provoked "a typically hyperaggressive counteroffensive" from the Bush team.

But the paper says even a "laserlike focus" on bin Laden's Al-Qaeda "might not have helped. Although the CIA warned of an Al-Qaeda attack in the summer of 2001, most of the intelligence was about targets in foreign countries. No one anticipated the kinds of strikes that took place in New York and at the Pentagon."


The "Journal's" European edition discusses European antiterrorism efforts in light of a remark by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Following the 11 March bombings of Madrid commuter trains that killed over 200 people, Solana said: "Europe is not at war."

The "Journal" says, "Maybe so, but the terrorists certainly are at war with Europe, and unless the old continent realizes that and stops treating the Islamic terrorist threat as just another area of law enforcement -- or as a uniquely American problem -- they may lose the fight."

In the weeks following the Madrid attacks, Europe's policymakers pledged to cooperate more fully on security matters. But EU counterterrorism measures are often "hampered by the continent's patchwork of national security services and different legal traditions, which give rise to a culture of mutual mistrust and national rivalries."

And this lack of coordination is but one of Europe's security setbacks. National law enforcement agencies "often lack the tools to fight terrorism even within their own jurisdiction."

The paper says it is still unclear whether Europe "has changed its threat perception from just after 9/11, when meetings to coordinate a 'response' were similarly held with few results."

A meeting this week of EU foreign ministers brought pledges of mutual support in the event of a similar attack on another European nation.

The "Journal" says such "expressions of solidarity are nice, but unless the focus turns to concrete actions to prevent future attacks [they] are unlikely to deliver citizens much security."


"The Taliban may be out of power, but the plight of Afghanistan's women goes on," says an editorial in New York's leading daily. "There are trappings of new freedoms -- foremost among them a Constitution that recognizes the rights of women -- but in much of the Afghan countryside, women and girls are still treated like chattels. [Many] young women find their lives so unbearable that they set themselves on fire to escape."

One program seeking to help women create better lives is Parwaz, which means "take flight" in Dari. Parwaz gives loans to women of $100 or less so they can start modest businesses in their communities. These microfinancing loans directly enable women to buy a cart and some fruit so they can sell at the market, allow them to do mending and sewing for money, or even to "[turn] the kitchen into a little bakery."

But concessions must be made to "Afghan realities," as the paper calls them. "Male relatives co-sign loan applications, as a way of making the men feel invested in the women's businesses, instead of threatened by them. [There] is also the awkward fact that some of these women are in the business of sewing burqas, the all-concealing gowns that, to Westerners, came to symbolize the Taliban's strict Islamic rule."

"The Taliban may be out of power, but the plight of Afghanistan's women goes on."
Still, microfinancing has a "promising track record" in many of the areas in which it has been applied worldwide. In Afghanistan, the paper says 98 percent of Parwaz's clients "make their payments on time and in full."


The "Monitor's" Colin Woodard says the past eight years of international reconstruction efforts in Bosnia "[show] both how long it can take to rebuild a fractured nation -- and how eventual success can help fight the war on terror."

Woodard says, "While world attention has been focused on Iraq and the Middle East," efforts in Bosnia have "begun to bear fruit. [As] the country's infrastructure, border patrol services, and national governing institutions have been rebuilt, experts say it has become a less attractive potential host for global terrorist networks like Al-Qaeda, which seek out 'weak states' with porous borders, ineffective governments, and sympathetic locals."

He cites Western officials as saying Bosnian authorities and the region's Muslims have been "extremely cooperative in monitoring and investigating individuals and groups suspected of terrorist links."

Bosnian Muslims, or Bosniaks, follow the tolerant Hanafi Islam tradition found in Turkey and the Balkans.

Bosnia's governing institutions "are also starting to show signs of life," says Woodard. If progress continues, "the country may be eligible to join NATO's Partnership for Peace Program -- an important step toward eventual membership -- at the alliance's June summit in Istanbul."

But Woodard emphasizes that significant hurdles remain, with Bosnia's economy "still dependent on foreign aid and organized crime." Unemployment is at 40 percent, the country "is deeply in debt, and foreign investment is scant."


With the assassination of Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, "Jane's" says Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "has embarked on a high-risk strategy." Yassin's death may indicate that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now "set to escalate very significantly."

The "key question," says "Jane's," is whether the Yassin assassination will strengthen support for Hamas among Palestinians.

Israeli security is already bracing "for immediate revenge attacks by Hamas supporters, but the longer-term risk is that the killing of Yassin will provide the organization with a substantial recruitment boost."

This possibility also worries the many Palestinians who favor a negotiated solution.

Israeli forces have already sealed the West Bank and Gaza Strip "in an effort to prevent militants entering Israel." But prohibiting Palestinian movement has unintended consequences, in that it "increases economic hardship and provides yet further impetus for potential suicide bombers."

The death of Hamas's spiritual leader has been a "major propaganda coup" for the organization. "Jane's" says, "A substantial boost in funding from foreign donors can [be] expected, underwriting further suicide attacks."

Yassin is now being "hailed as an Islamic martyr and may prove a more dangerous opponent for Israel after his death than while he was alive."


An editorial in France's "Le Monde" says Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was a man of “fanatical” violence. The founder and spiritual father of the militant Hamas movement inspired, if not directly financed, a number of terrorist attacks in Israel proper and in the occupied territories. He never considered Israeli civilians to be "innocent," the paper says.

Yassin founded a movement of mutual social and economic aid in the territories that is winning growing respect among Palestinians, particularly in Gaza. Hamas views the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as only one stage in the elimination of Israel, "Le Monde" says. The group -- with the explicit support of Yassin -- was also responsible for a string of attacks aimed at scuttling the Oslo peace process.

Such was the man who was the victim of a targeted assassination in the early morning hours of 22 March. The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, claimed to have been acting in the name of the war against terrorism, but this is not convincing, says the paper. "Quite the contrary."

Hamas will find other leaders to replace the one whose assassination has transformed him into a "hero" and a "martyr" in various Arab capitals worldwide. The group will avenge itself by beginning a string of new terrorist attacks, the paper predicts. Thus, Hamas will once again dictate the political calendar in the Middle East.

Moreover, "Le Monde" warns, the hatred this assassination has generated may nourish sympathetic feelings for Al-Qaeda.