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Ridge: Madrid Bombings Will Strengthen Resolve Against Terrorism - 2004-03-12

A senior U.S. anti-terrorism official says Thursday's bombings in Madrid, Spain, in which nearly 200 people were killed, will only strengthen international resolve to combat terrorism. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge made his remarks in Thailand during a four-nation trip to East Asia.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says that in the global effort to bring terrorists to justice, laws and cultures of individual countries must be respected. But he notes that international cooperation in counter-terrorism is a growing force.

"Terrorism is a global scourge and not a regional one," said Mr. Ridge. "And a global enemy requires a global response."

Mr. Ridge says that since the September 2001 attacks on the United States, an informal coalition of nearly 70 nations has been working together in law enforcement, intelligence gathering, financial asset seizures and transportation and cyber security. As a result, he says more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been detained in 90 countries.

Mr. Ridge acknowledged that heightened security following the attacks prevented thousands of foreign students from pursuing studies in America. And he acknowledged the problems faced by tourists, scholars, and foreign officials visiting the United States.

But he says new procedures are improving visa processing and as a result, visits by foreigners have nearly returned to their levels before the attacks.

Mr. Ridge signed an agreement with Thailand to install a computer system that screens visa applicants in the kingdom for ties to terrorism. He signed a similar agreement in Singapore, the first stop of his tour.

In Indonesia, his second stop, he expressed disappointment over the early release of Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who is reportedly the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional terrorist network tied to al Qaida.

An Indonesian court convicted Bashir of forging travel documents, but said it found no evidence he was involved in terrorism. Mr. Ridge acknowledged that Bashir's release was consistent with Indonesian law, but says he hopes the cleric will soon be returned to jail.

"His [Bashir] engagement [in JI] is so pervasive that as we continue to gather information about him, coupled with information we already have, there will possibly be some opportunities to apprehend and imprison him again," he said.

The Indonesian government has asked to question in person an alleged senior leader of Jemaah Islamiyah and al Qaida, called Hambali. Although an Indonesian citizen, Hambali has been in U.S. custody since his arrest in Thailand last year. The United States has yet to grant Indonesia's request to interview him.

After Thailand, Mr. Ridge is planning to visit South Korea, the fourth stop on his trip to Asia.