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Future Terrorist Attacks 'Inevitable,' says Australian FM - 2004-02-04

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says Southeast Asia's largest terrorist organization has been disrupted, but still presents a major threat. Mr. Downer spoke at a counter-terrorism conference in Bali that was also addressed by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The Australian foreign minister said that Southeast Asia remains a "front line" in the fight against terrorism, and said further terrorist attacks in the region are "inevitable."

Speaking to counter-terrorism delegates from 25 countries, Mr. Downer said regional police forces had arrested more than 200 members of the terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI. But he said the organization, which has links to al Qaeda, is still functioning. "We haven't disabled it," he said. "Key operatives are still at large and JI remains highly resilient and committed to its cause."

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said militants were spreading their activities across international borders to lessen the likelihood of detection, and said this increases the need for regional cooperation. "This puts a real premium on our cooperation, puts a real premium on working together, because preparations in one arena may literally be the vital link toward devastation which is inflicted in another arena," said Mr. Ashcroft.

Indonesia and Australia have agreed to set up a joint counter-terrorism centre in Indonesia, a move Mr. Ashcroft said would give a further boost to the anti-terror war. Although the United States will not have a direct role in the new centre, Mr. Ashcroft said Washington was eager to share its experience and learn from the experience of others.

Indonesia, which has suffered two major terrorist bombings and several minor attacks in recent years, has had notable success in hunting down and convicting the perpetrators.

But Mr. Downer warned that despite this success, Jemaah Islamiyah and other militant groups are still adding new members. He said JI will present a threat to Indonesia and the region in general for some time to come. "It's planning for the long term, retraining and recruiting young men as the next generation of [terrorist] leaders," he said.

Participants in the two-day closed conference say representatives of Malaysia and Brunei told delegates that, although law enforcement elements were vital to the war on terror, the war can never be won until there is peace in the Middle East.

They reportedly said the continuing bloodshed in that region was putting a powerful tool into the hands of terrorist organizations seeking new recruits.