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Arrests in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan Help War Against al Qaida - 2004-08-19

Officials in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan say recent arrests show progress in war against Al Qaida terrorists. U.S. officials say the information provided by those operations has sparked a higher security alert in the United States. But security experts and Mideast analysts say the long-term war against terrorism needs more than military operations.

After the detention of more than 20 terrorist suspects, Pakistan's Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat sounded upbeat about the crackdown on al-Qaida's operations in his country.

"The net is closing around the al-Qaida structure within Pakistan," he said. "So, certainly, there is considerable room for optimism in this context."

In similar fashion, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah this week told a Kuwait daily newspaper that his government is succeeding in eliminating terrorist networks operating there.

But security analysts monitoring the campaign against terrorism are not as confident.

Although some Saudi militants have turned themselves in during a month-long amnesty and others have been killed in clashes with security forces, 12 of the 26 top terrorists remain at large.

A longtime intelligence officer heading the CIA unit that focuses on terrorist leader Osama bin Laden says al-Qaida may be in trouble, but it is still recruiting new militants. He is the anonymous author of a book critical of Administration's handling of the war on terrorism.

His sobering assessment was made in a VOA interview before restrictions were placed on his public comments. "The clandestine service of the United States has visited a degree of damage on al-Qaida in the last six or seven years that would have absolutely destroyed any other terrorist group or any group we have described as terrorist," said Anonymous. "The attack on the leadership has been extraordinary. At the same time, al-Qaida has demonstrated an ability to replicate senior leaders at a pace that is nothing short of astounding."

Other analysts also point to Iraq, where instability has created a new breeding ground for anti-American terrorists.

Diplomats and analysts alike agree that military operations against terrorists are necessary. But they say the battle against Islamic extremism cannot be fought only with guns and bombs.

Former diplomat Richard Solomon heads the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington. "How do we marginalize the militants who use violence and would polarize the world and take it back to an earlier century? How do we mobilize the moderates, those who are prepared to be tolerant, who seek national development? How do we diffuse the catalytic conflicts that roil the Muslim world, the Middle East, Kashmir, Sudan, the Philippines? There is a long list of those conflicts that are the catalysts of the efforts of the militants to mobilize support," he said. "And finally, how do we bridge the divide, how do we enable the West, the United States to work and live together with the world of Islam. While this challenge that we now face requires military defenses, we now understand this is a long term challenge that requires politics for the long term as much or more than it requires military capabilities."

Saudi-born Khalid al-Ghannami would agree. The former radical cleric now promotes tolerance and moderate Islamic teachings. He has just published a book about the right of prayer outside the mosque. In a way, he says, that could undermine radical preachers using the pulpit to spread extremist views.

"I am trying to convince people here it is for the good of the country to isolate the mosque from political struggle," said Khalid al-Ghannami.

But he is not sure his book will receive a sympathetic response in a country still tied to ultra-conservative religious traditions.

Pakistan-born analyst Husain Haqqani of the Carnegie Endowment for Democracy also puts the burden on governments to attack the root causes of terrorism, like poverty and human-rights abuses that breed hostility toward their own leaders and the United States.

"The most important thing that needs to be done is to try and work on ensuring the ideology that is breeding these terrorists, the world view, that that is also checked," he said. "And I think on that side, America's allies and the U.S. government have been lagging far behind."

Former diplomat Richard Solomon says the 2001 terrorist attacks were a deadly wake-up call for action, but he suggests the United States and other governments involved in the war on terror are still in the early stages of a long-term challenge.