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05 May 2004

U.S. Counterterrorism Official Reports Progress to Africans

Fewest victims since 1969, Amb. Cofer Black tells DVC audience

By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Cofer Black gave Africans an optimistic assessment of the war on terrorism, noting that its victims were at a 34-year low.

Speaking to journalists and government officials in Dar es Salaam and Addis Ababa May 4 via an electronic link called a digital videoconference (DVC), Black said terrorists killed 307 civilians in 2003, the lowest number since 1969. By comparison, almost 3,000 people from almost 100 countries were killed on September 11, 2001, when the al Qaeda terrorist network struck in New York and Washington.

"The good news," he said, is that there have been fewer victims because "the community of nations is collaborating more efficiently and effectively" against international terrorism. For example, 70 percent of known al Qaeda operatives have been killed or arrested. "We have had a tremendous amount of help and we are very grateful," he said.

It is important to remember, Black added, that counterterrorism is not just a military operation but entails a wide range of government resources, from diplomacy to financial monitoring, which are employed by America and its allies around the globe to stymie terrorism. He defined terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence against noncombatants done by subnational groups, like al Qaeda, and national agents."

The official drove home the point to the Africans, who interacted with him via DVC links from the public affairs sections of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Ethiopia, that "terrorism is simply premeditated murder of non-combatants; these are women and children."

When one of the Africans pointed out that America's "focus on terrorism" was "too narrow" and harsh, discounting root causes of discontent in the Muslim world such as poverty, Black asserted that the struggle against terrorism is "a war," not just a criminal action, because "we are under attack." In that regard, the official said, "we are at variance with the Europeans," who basically see terrorism as a law-and-order issue rather than a matter of life and death.

Black said the goal is "to defend innocent men, women and children ... and we have to cooperate to defeat this scourge of terrorism."

Although no Americans died in the al Qaeda attack on the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam in August 1998, 11 Tanzanians lost their lives. "These were crazed killers who wanted to kill Americans and actually succeeded in killing Tanzanians," Black said. Terrorism is "an issue that has been thrust upon us. It was not our choice. [Now] we are all in this together ... and you will continue to see the U.S. as a partner in this war."

William Pope, Black's deputy in the counterterrorism office, recently attended a U.S.-sponsored conference on terrorism in Kampala, where he cited the 1998 attacks in East Africa. "While 9/11 is regarded in some quarters as the watershed event demonstrating the reality of the threat from al Qaeda and its allies, the horrible attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, were in fact an even earlier wake-up call," he said. "These attacks killed and wounded far more Kenyans and Tanzanians than Americans, the ostensible targets."

According to Pope: "These mass bombings brutally demonstrated the willingness of these terrorists to kill and maim large numbers of persons who had committed no offense, in countries that were not directly involved in the extremists' perceived grievances in South Asia or the Middle East. Additional attacks in Mombasa in November 2002 showed that terrorist cells were still active and indiscriminate in executing their vicious attacks."

With that in mind, Pope told the Kampala conferees that the $100 million East African Counterterrorism Initiative (EACTI), which President Bush launched in June 2003, was on track. "Many of the countries represented here have benefited from this program, which includes military training for border and coastal security, programs to strengthen control of the movement of people and goods across borders, aviation security capacity-building, assistance for regional efforts against terrorist financing, and police training. EACTI also includes an education program to counter extremist influence and a robust outreach program," he said.

Addressing the poverty rationale, Black told his DVC audience that among some, "it is a very fashionable thing" to make an "association between poverty and terrorism. They would have you believe that someone who is poor is most likely to be a terrorist. We've looked at this very closely and the facts don't substantiate it."

For example, he said, "If you look at those who attacked the United States on 9/11 -- these are not poor people. These were middle-class Saudis, either in university or who had access to universities, whose mothers and fathers were acting their roles appropriately. The young people turned into terrorists because they fell under the influence of the wrong people and became seriously misguided."

Instead of blaming economic conditions, Black said, "we need to encourage moderation" and follow guidelines "our mothers and fathers taught us -- [that] we all have a contribution to make, that there are ways to redress our grievances short of killing innocent men, women, children and babies."