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Pakistan Tightens Anti-Terror Laws - 2004-07-13

Pakistan is planning to tighten its anti-terrorism laws in an effort to close legal loopholes.

Pakistani Interior Secretary Abdur-Rauf Chaudry says the amendments will widen the definition of terrorist crimes and increase prison penalties for those who commit them.

He says the changes to the 1997 anti-terrorism statutes will increase the list of criminal charges that can be heard by the country's special anti-terrorism courts.

"There were certain gray areas, so now we are going to amend the law, so that such cases fall into the jurisdiction of these special courts," he said.

The special courts were meant to speed up the legal process by setting a seven-day limit for terror-related cases.

But as Mr. Chaudry points out, many such cases have dragged on due to appeals over whether the charges in question fall into the terrorism category.

He says the government expects the Cabinet will approve the new amendments in the near future.

Over the past six months, Pakistan has seen a resurgence of terrorist acts, including sectarian religious violence and attacks on foreign workers and diplomatic missions.

Mr. Chaudry says that while Pakistan is making progress in rooting out terrorists on its soil, the fight is by no means over and attacks are likely to continue in the short term.

"It's a long battle, and you cannot say that all the terrorists have been eliminated," he added. "We do expect some more incidents."

But he adds that the situation is not as bad as some think.

For example, he says temporary closure earlier this month of the U.S. and British embassies in Islamabad may have been unnecessary and an over-reaction.

The closures had reportedly come in response to a threatened rocket attack against the diplomatic missions.

Asked about Mr. Chaudry's remarks, the U.S. Embassy said it would not comment on the closure as a matter of security policy.