05 May 2004
U.S. Counterterrorism Official Reports Progress to Africans
Fewest victims since 1969, Amb. Cofer Black tells
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
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
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."