Terrorists ‘had their own loyal support network’

Professor Paul Wilkinson is not only a guru on terrorism-related issues but is one of the experts who very early on examined the major issue that is suddenly causing concern to the entire Western world – if and how liberal states and civil rights can live with terrorism and the war against it. Co-founder and director of the independent Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, and professor of international relations at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, Paul Wilkinson has been studying terrorism for over 30 years. This Wednesday, he will be in Athens at the invitation of the British Embassy, in cooperation with Kathimerini, to give a public lecture at the Hotel Grande Bretagne at 7 p.m. What repercussions will the terrorist attack of September 11 have on world peace? The September 11 attacks have shocked America and the world and have provided a coalition of states to campaign against terrorism, and a war in Afghanistan. The economy in the USA and globally has been disrupted and damaged, though I believe confidence will recover. The main implications of the September 11 attacks for the world are (a) we face the strategic threat of mass terrorism and (b) we have come a step nearer to terrorists’ using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons to kill even larger numbers of people. The September 11 attacks were a tragic watershed. Were you surprised by the extent, rationale and precision of the attack or was it something you had expected? Yes, I was shocked and surprised by the sheer scale of these atrocities. More people died in one day through terrorism in America than have died in 35 years of West European terrorism. Let us suppose that Osama bin Laden is found dead or alive. How safe will the world be after his extermination? Who can estimate how many Attas are still in the world and how they are going to act in future? The removal of bin Laden would be a huge blow to Al-Qaeda, but would be unlikely to halt terrorism by his followers and network around the world. At this moment, are there terrorists who could fill New York, Paris or London with biological warfare weapons? Which is the greatest danger? There is intelligence to indicate Al-Qaeda has obtained chemical and biological weapons material, but we do not know if they have an effective means of dispersing them. Both are highly dangerous. Is it possible for the terrorists of September 11 to have acted without help from the US system and without cooperation with some of the local officials? Yes: they had their own loyal support network in America and other Western countries to provide them with all they needed. What do you mean when you say that the return of Fascism is nearer than we think? In my book The New Fascists, I warned against the danger of the revival of neo-fascist movements in many countries. In the 1990s they became the main domestic terrorist threat in the US – remember the Oklahoma bombing, for example. Can terrorism be combated without harm to democracy and human rights? Yes. I have described how this can be done, with reference to the history of terrorism in liberal states over the past 30 years in my latest book, Terrorism versus Democracy (2000). Is the appearance of a New McCarthyism, inside or outside the USA, likely? I see no sign of this currently. Since 1977, when you raised the problem of the relationship between a liberal state and terrorism, how more difficult has this co-existence become? It has always been difficult for the liberal state to deal with major terrorist challenges because the petty tyranny of terrorism is the antithesis of democracy. Is there really a distinction between terrorism and political crime? Yes; most terrorism has an underlying political aim or motivation. To what school do the anti-Western terrorists of September 11 belong? Are they more related to Baader-Meinhof and the Red Brigades or perhaps to the nihilistic anti-Western Russian Pan-Slavists of the 19th century? Al-Qaeda is sui generis, a truly transnational network committed to mass terrorism and abusing Islam by claiming a religious justification for its mass murder of civilians. In what way can states arm themselves against terrorism and how can they react to it? The key weapon to defeat terrorism is high-quality intelligence on the aims, intentions and plans of terrorist movements. By obtaining such information, generally by human intelligence sources, terrorists can be arrested before atrocities are committed and they can be convicted and punished. Other key weapons are a strong and expert police force, a courageous justice system and maximum support and cooperation from the general public and the international community. What is more important: to hit the financial and other networks of terrorists, even in Western countries, or punish the Third World countries that give them asylum? Both are equally important but the EU democracies have been very weak and inadequate in both these spheres of action. How do you explain the fact that Greece has not yet been able to tackle the terrorist phenomenon? Have you any answers as to what is happening in our country? I believe there is a serious lack of understanding of the terrorist threat, a lack of will to combat it and a grave shortage of expertise.

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