NATO Secretary General George Robertson said at least one of the suspected terrorists detained by alliance led peacekeepers in Bosnia has direct links to the al Qaida network, led by Osama bin Laden, the man accused of masterminding last month's attacks in New York and Washington. Mr. Robertson said that, despite NATO anti-terror efforts in Bosnia, the threat has not gone away.
Speaking to reporters at alliance headquarters in Brussels, Mr. Robertson confirmed what NATO officials had said earlier this week - that the alliance, working with Bosnian police, had broken up a terrorist plot in the Balkan country.
But the secretary-general disclosed two new elements. He said one of the people arrested by NATO-led peacekeepers has now been identified as having links to the al Qaida group. And he said NATO had disrupted more than one terrorist network operating in Bosnia. "There have been a number of arrests and detentions and deportations in Bosnia-Herzegovina carried out by the NATO-led Stabilization Force," he said. "At least one of the detained people is known to have direct links with al Qaida and Osama bin Laden. The action taken by SFOR has disrupted a number of terrorist networks, not all of them al Qaida networks," he said.
Mr. Robertson refused to identify any of the suspects, or give details on how NATO discovered and broke up the terrorist groups and what their intended targets were.
Earlier this week, a NATO official identified an Algerian named Bensayah Belkacem, who was detained October 8 by Bosnian police, as having made telephone calls to an associate of Mr. bin Laden, during which the two men discussed the procurement of foreign passports. When Mr. Belkacem's house was raided, police found several blank passports from various countries.
Despite what he describes as a "significant success", Mr. Robertson warned that the danger of terrorist attacks in Bosnia has not disappeared. "The threat, however, has not gone," Mr. Robertson said. "These networks have been disrupted, not eliminated. Investigations are still continuing," he said. "And our work is therefore not finished."
The NATO secretary-general did not specifically identify the threat. A newspaper report earlier this week quoted unnamed NATO officials as saying SFOR had foiled a planned terrorist attack on two U.S. military installations in Bosnia.
But Mr. Robertson said it is clear that the threat is not just to the 18,000 troops serving in Bosnia under the NATO flag, or to Americans. He reminded reporters that civilians were the victims in New York and Washington. And he promised NATO will not only protect its own forces, but also ensure the safety of Bosnia's people as well.