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UN: al-Qaida Stepping Up Effort to Get Banned Weapons - 2003-12-01

United Nations monitors say al-Qaida is stepping up attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Experts are painting a bleak picture of efforts to clamp down on the terrorist network.

A report issued by the U.N.'s al-Qaida Sanctions Committee says there is a growing risk that the group will acquire and use weapons of mass destruction. The only thing stopping them, it says, is a lack of technical expertise.

U.N. experts who wrote the report say Iraq, administered as it is by U.S.-led occupation forces, is fertile ground for the al-Qaida network. The Sanctions Committee Chairman, Chilean Ambassador Heraldo Munoz, says the organization is rapidly spreading its tentacles worldwide, making sanctions virtually unenforceable, especially in southeast Asia.

"They have ability to circumvent sanctions we have applied, so we are worried about the extension of al-Qaida not only to Asia but to other new theaters, and in that sense it has become a truly global terrorist organization," he said.

The U.N. expert report says one of the more difficult tasks it faces is preventing donations to charitable groups from winding up in the pockets of terrorists. The document names two groups, the International Islamic Relief Organization and the Al Haramain Charitable Foundation, that have been used to finance al-Qaida's operations.

Ambassador Munoz expressed disappointment that fewer than half the U.N.'s 191 member countries are cooperating in efforts to monitor al-Qaida's activities. He is leading a delegation to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan this week in an attempt to encourage greater support for the sanctions regime.