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Terrorism Roundup - 2002-01-19


Controversy in Canada over the U.S. treatment of al-Qaida prisoners, the debate in the Philippines over cooperation with the United States in the anti-terror war, and officials in Singapore reassure the public in the wake of arrests of suspected al-Qaida operatives. These and other developments in the war against terrorism in this report by VOA's Dan Robinson.

As the United States continued to fly al-Qaida prisoners to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, there was controversy in Canada, a key U.S. ally, over how the former combatants are being treated, and what role Canadian troops in Afghanistan should play in rounding up al-Qaida members.

As the first of 750 Canadian troops due to participate in the multinational force in Afghanistan arrived in Kandahar, a debate raged back home in Canada's parliament. Opposition lawmakers and other critics said Canadian troops could not hand over prisoners to the United States, which they accused of violating the Geneva convention.

The United States calls captured al-Qaida fighters "unlawful combatants" rather than prisoners of war, but says there are no violations of international law on humane treatment. Red Cross officials were interviewing al-Qaida prisoners in Cuba.

Amid often heated arguments, Canada's defense minister (Art Eggleton) said he did not think the United States was in violation of the Geneva convention, adding that Canadian troops might be ordered to leave prisoner captures to U-S forces.

In the Philippines, the government came under criticism over the deployment of about 600 U.S. troops to assist the military campaign against Abu Sayyaf, the radical Islamic group suspected of having links to al-Qaida.

Critics accused the government of violating the constitution. President Gloria Arroyo said U.S. troops would not be spearheading military operations against Abu Sayyaf. A Philippine presidential spokesman issued assurances that the pursuit of Abu Sayyaf would not lead to wider U.S. military involvement. Secretary of State Colin Powell sought to calm concerns, saying (on ABC's Good Morning America) that U.S. troops would not be active combatants. At week's end, President Arroyo said she would welcome any congressional investigation into the legality of the U.S. deployment.

Authorities in Singapore continued to investigate possible al-Qaida operations in the city-state in the wake of the arrests of 13 suspected terrorists. The government announced wide-ranging security measures at airports, ports and chemical and oil facilities. Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at week's end that the arrests of suspected terrorists may have addressed any immediate danger, but the threat of terrorism remains. "Terrorism is no longer a vague, distant threat," he said. "It is a present danger at our doorstep."

In East Africa, Somalia continued to be the subject of speculation that it might be the next target of the U.S. war on terrorism. An official of Somalia's transitional government repeated an appeal for help in locating possible al-Qaida operatives. Dahir Sheikh Mohamed, who serves as interior minister in Mogadishu, said U.S. officials had given assurances that there is no plan to attack Somalia. He added that the solution to Somalia's crisis did not lie in attacking the country, but rather in disarming militias and helping establish security throughout the country.

A press report said U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that possible future terrorist attacks could be carried out by non-Arab members of the al-Qaida organization. The Washington Post said U.S. officials cited the case of Richard Reid, a British national of mixed racial origins, as an example of non-Arab al-Qaida members posing a threat. The article also quoted officials as saying the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has sent more agents to Asian countries since the September 11 attacks in the United States.

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