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UN Report Documents Efforts to Dismantle al-Qaida - 2002-12-17

The head of a U.N. committee monitoring efforts to cripple the al-Qaida terrorist network, said al-Qaida remains an insidious group, with recent signs of a resurgence in eastern Afghanistan. A new report released Tuesday points to significant, though limited, progress over the past year in the war on terrorism.

The U.N. report said while Osama bin Laden's financial empire has been largely dismantled, the leader of al-Qaida still has sufficient resources at his disposal.

British diplomat Michael Chandler, the head of the U.N. committee, said private charities, a main conduit for funneling money to al-Qaida, are unregulated in many countries. The good news, he said, is that some key governments, such as Saudi Arabia, have promised to do more to control these so-called "philanthropic" groups.

At the same time, Mr. Chandler warns al-Qaida supporters have become more discreet and its followers more elusive. "These are all positive signs which are going to make it more and more difficult for al-Qaida to operate like they were 12 months ago. But, the question is there are still too many of them out there. The ones who got trained in all these evil techniques have melted back into different societies, and they are the ones we have to worry about," he said.

Mr. Chandler believes putting everyone linked to al-Qaida on an official U.N. list of terrorists, which currently identifies over 300 individuals and groups, would make it more difficult for them to hide. He has gathered more than 100 additional names from readily available public information sources, and asked the governments concerned to decide whether they should be included.

Meanwhile, Mr. Chandler points to the emergence of new terrorist training sites in eastern Afghanistan as a sign that al-Qaida remains a serious threat. He said the camps are rudimentary and small but the fact that they have re-surfaced is troubling:

"They are of concern because what is actually happening is more young men who are disillusioned and perhaps have a feeling for al-Qaida, and let's face it, the sympathy for this organization is actually quite widespread in many countries, are happy to turn up and be trained. They believe it's the thing they should be doing," Mr. Chandler said.

As for a possible al-Qaida link to Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, an idea suggested by the Bush administration, the British diplomat said he has not found a connection. Mr. Chandler said if al-Qaida were interested in getting biological or chemical arms, it would be able to get them more easily in many places other than Iraq.

The United Nations placed sanctions on al-Qaida shortly after its attack on the United States in September, 2001. They include a travel ban, an arms embargo and a call on all governments to freeze the organization's financial assets.