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Regional snapshots after five years of 'war on terror'

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Monday September 4, 2006

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Following is a series of detailed snapshots from around the world describing how five years of the war against terrorism have impacted individual regions.

ASIA: Hard-line Islamic organizations have become more radical as they capitalize on anger over perceived US bullying, experts say, and "extremist groups that were modest in size have grown significantly," said Rohan Gunaratna, a regional terrorism analyst.

Muddled signals from Bush's "war on terror" have prompted many Asian governments to tar their local insurgencies and anti-government groups with the terrorist tag, others observe.

Thailand under the five-year-old premiership of Thaksin Shinawatra has noticeably backtracked in its human rights record, with an estimated 2,000 extra-judiciary killings. Yet Bush has remained silent on the trend, outgoing Thai Senator Kraisak Choonhavan noted.

But not all of Southeast Asia's Muslims, mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia, have tossed aside mainstream Islamic practices.

"Many Muslims feel that our religion is being threatened, but as far as opting for violence, I believe that is still an exception rather than a general rule," said Yusri Mohamed, president of the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia.

ISRAEL: When then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon described the 9/11 attacks against the US as a "turning point" in the war against international terrorism, he expected that the world would subsequently show more support for Israel's fight against Palestinian militancy, often expressed in suicide attacks.

The sub-text of nearly every Israeli comment on September 11 was, "Now do you understand how we feel?" Sever Plotzker, a senior analyst, in the large circulation daily, Yediot Ahronot wrote: "In light of the horrific spectacles in New York and Washington, the eyes of many will have been opened."

It did not work out that way. Instead, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come to be seen as one of the reasons for the rise of militant Islam.

In the years since September 11, 2001, pressure has grown on the Jewish state to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians, and Israel's war against Palestinian militants is seen as fuelling Muslim discontent.

While some Israeli observers accept this thesis, others believe fanaticism against the West would also exist without Israel.

IRAN: Although 9/11 incident was never be linked to the clergy in Iran, Tehran's influence in the Middle East has been strengthened by the US-led war against terrorism, experts at the Royal Institute for International Affairs in London said in a recent study.

The US-led ouster of regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq changed the geopolitical status of the Islamic state, which suddenly faced what is sees as the "Great Satan" (United States) on its north-western, western and south-eastern borders - even though it was freed of its previous rival neighbour.

Iran had had serious hostilities with both countries before 9/11, and been on the brink of a war with Afghanistan's Taliban regime - a major part of the terrorist network al-Qaeda - in 1998 after Afghan Islamists killed Iranian diplomats.

In the wake of the US "war on terror", Iran has constantly rejected US and Israeli charges of being a sponsor of terrorism, and insisted "resistance" groups in the Palestinian territories and south Lebanon could not be compared to the international terrorist network of Al-Qaeda.

The Israel-Hamas/Hezbollah conflicts have further destabilized the region - a development wich has strengthened Iran's position and given it confidence in Tehran's conflict with the West over its nuclear programme, according to the Royal Institute.

RUSSIA: Russia's war on terrorism and extremism took an unexpected turn with 9/11. As the first foreign leader to call US President George W Bush with a message of support, President Vladimir Putin seized on the benefits of assisting the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan with reported help by Russian intelligence in ousting the Taliban.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has increasingly linked Islamic rebel forces in Chechnya with international terrorism, deflecting foreign criticism of the brutal conduct of Russian troops in the separatist republic.

Russia has suffered a number of major terrorist attacks since 9/11, including the 2004 seizure by gunmen of a school in Beslan in which 300 people died, many of them children.

Putin's Kremlin pushed a package of purported anti-terrorist measures through parliament after Beslan, including the abolition of popular elections of regional leaders, in a step that was claimed to "strengthen democracy."

The death in July of top Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev and the surrender of more than 170 militants boosted Russia's internal war against terrorism.

Following the murder of four of its diplomats in Iraq this summer, Russia now reserves the right to take action against terrorists anywhere in the world.

SPAIN: Initially, September 11 only seemed to strengthen Madrid's political alliance with Washington as then-prime minister Jose Maria Aznar joined the Iraq war.

But Aznar's unquestioning support of Washington has been blamed by many for the al-Qaeda-backed bombing of four Madrid commuter trains in 2004. Just days later, in scheduled elections that Aznar had been expected to win, voters rejected the conservative government: many believed Aznar's officials rushed to blame the bombings on Basque separatists to mask the al-Qaeda involvement.

New Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero recalled Spanish troops from Iraq and switched from an Atlanticist to a pro- European foreign policy.

Twenty-nine people have been charged with involvement in the 2004 attacks. Their trial will follow one of the biggest trials of Islamist militants, in which 18 people were sentenced on terrorism- related charges in Madrid in September 2005. Most of the key suspects are of Moroccan origin.

AFRICA: Africa's domestic problems, poor records of governance, and its sheer physical space could further turn the continent into a safe haven and a resource for international terrorists, according to experts such as Annalie Botha of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa.

After initial bewilderment about the continent's worst terrorist attacks in 1998 on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, African realized only after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US that Africa was not isolated from transnational terrorism.

Few countries, with the exception of Kenya, South Africa, Mauritius and Tanzania, have effective anti-terrorism laws.

Alarm is also growing over Somalia, where Islamic rule is imposed on an ungovernable country, with tension mounting as the powerful Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) wrestles with an internationally-backed interim government for control.

In North Africa and the Sahel, the US military has been helping to push back a newly emerging terrorist threat under a security programme of the US State Department. US Special Operations Command forces have trained troops in Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Niger to fight terrorist threats.

Fundamentalism is also on the rise in Morocco - home to 11 key suspects in the 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid, and site of a suicide bombing attack on Casablanca in 2003.

While Moroccan authorities have arrested hundreds of Islamist suspects, the country's biggest fundamentalist movement, Justice and Spirituality, is becoming increasingly political according to observers in Rabat.

LATIN AMERICA: The 9/11 attacks and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq brought to the surface strong underlying dislike for the United States, with many interpreting the attacks as a retribution for past wrongs in the region.

Hebe de Bonafini, head of the Argentine human rights organization Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, brutally summed up the attitude. Her two sons were killed under the US-backed Argentina dictatorship from 1976 to 1983.

"When the attack happened ... I felt happiness. It didn't hurt meat all, because, as I always say in my speeches, our dead children will be avenged," said Bonafini.

Her opinion strikes a lasting chord among many Latin Americans who feel that the US - an active supporter of murderous dictatorships across the region in the 1970s and 1980s - cannot be considered an innocent victim of terrorist attacks.

Since 9/11, Hugo Chavez, president of oil-rich Venezuela, has led a growing movement of leftwing populist nationalism across the region which is stridently anti-US and has forged links with Washington's enemies such as Iran.

By dpa correspondents

2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur