politics, history and the war on terror
Sunday, May 16, 2004

Today's New York Times reports on the significant involvement of Moroccans in the European Islamic terror networks. The article unwittingly provides multiple examples of why the War on Terror should not be treated as a law enforcement problem alone and exposes a lack of seriousness on the part of Europeans to apprehend suspected terrorists. Several of the examples are excerpted here.

Although the two sides [Spain & Morocco] are working together to investigate the Madrid bombings, the Moroccans have complained that their pleas for help after the Casablanca attacks were largely ignored until terrorists struck the heart of Europe. They also have expressed frustration that laws in many European countries are not tough enough. In April a court in Hamburg, Germany, allowed a Moroccan who was the only person convicted in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States to leave prison pending a new trial. Three weeks later a court in Rome acquitted 12 people, including 9 Moroccans, who were arrested in 2002 and accused of being associated with a terrorist organization.

The cases of Abdel-Ghani Mzoudi, who was charged with aiding the Hamburg terror cell that assisted Mohammed Atta with planning the 9/11 attacks, and the Italian al Qaeda cells are textbook examples of why using the civilian courts to handle terrorists is flawed. The standard of evidence to convict is far too high, while the unwillingness of intelligence agencies to compromise sources and methods makes a conviction very difficult. Had Mzoudi been convicted, the maximum sentence he would have received would have been 15 years in jail, all for 3,000 counts of accessory to murder. The Moroccans and Egyptians acquitted in Italy are considering filing for compensation for their time spend in jail, even after explosives, weapons and maps detailing American installations were found in their possession.

For their part, Moroccan officials, who have issued 44 international arrest warrants for suspected terrorists, have accused European countries of being slow or unwilling to extradite suspects they have captured. Britain, for example, has refused to extradite Muhammad al-Gerbouzi, whom Morocco has identified as a battle-hardened veteran of Afghanistan and a planner of the Casablanca attacks as well as a founder of the Moroccan Combatant Islamic Group, identified by the United Nations as a terrorist network connected to Al Qaeda.

Muhammad al-Gerbouzi is another terrorist who benefits from the domestic laws of his host nation. Extraditions are tied up in courts, which require a burden of evidence that can rarely be satisfied, or are denied outright due to the fact a nation allows for the death penalty. Gerbouzi, who recently has been implicated in the Madrid bombings, currently lives in government sponsored housing in England and his wife receives a government stipend as well.

Many European officials also have expressed frustration with Morocco's tendency to blame Al Qaeda for ordering and organizing every plot, rather than view it as a more widespread ideological inspiration. "It's easier for the Moroccans to place responsibility outside Morocco and blame Al Qaeda, because it frees them from responsibility," said one senior Belgian intelligence official. "They refuse to see there's an internal component of the problem, one of poverty and despair."

The European's frustration with claims of al Qaeda links are based on a lack of understanding of the structure of al Qaeda, which is comprised of regional Islamist affiliates that are supported, trained, financed and armed by al Qaeda.

Blaming poverty and despair as the "root causes" of terrorism is a common theme, however facts do not support this. Osama bin Laden is a millionaire, Ayman al Zawahiri is a pediatrician and surgeon, and Mohammed Atta was a civil engineer. Many other members are well educated, and the financiers of al Qaeda cannot be described as destitute. The real root cause of terrorism is the spread of the violent Islamist ideologies such as Wahabism and Salafism, ideologies that indoctrinate Muslims to hate and murder those who do not adhere to their interpretation of Islam.

In 2002 the group, known by its initials in French, G.I.C.M. [Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group], was put on a United Nations list of terrorist organizations linked to Al Qaeda, and in 2003 was added to the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. Months after the Casablanca attacks, Morocco began to link many of those suspected of involvement with the organization. "Now we have a situation where Morocco gives you a long list, tells you everyone on the list is a member of G.I.C.M. and asks you to put them all in jail," said one senior Belgian official. "You cannot just issue arrest warrants without proof."

This is yet another example of the inadequacies of civilian legal systems when dealing with terror suspects. Noureddine Nfia, the captured leader of G.I.C.M., has admitted to forging an alliance with al Qaeda, and the Moroccans identify members of this terror organization. But the Europeans resist following up on the leads as the burden of proof is too great to act.

The War on Terror challenges democracies in unforeseen ways. The justice system is an area of weakness with respect to the War on Terror. Democracies are legally and morally inclined to provide full and open hearings for those accused of crimes, but the nature of terrorist activities makes the legal prosecution of terrorists difficult. The evidence is usually obtained from intelligence organizations that are unwilling to share the information in open courts, expose their sources or allow captured terrorists to be used as witnesses. Some nations hide behind the laws and are unwilling to take chances to indict, prosecute or extradite those under suspicion. The law must be modified to account for those accused of terror related activities. One solution would be to try terror suspects in military tribunals, where the standard of evidence is less than that of the civilian courts. Another solution would be the creation of closed civilian courts, where the information related to the trial is sealed and greater access to evidence and witnesses is available to the courts. Whatever the solution may be, it must improve on the current law, which has allowed the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui to stagnate in our justice system.

Posted by bill roggio @ 12:09 AM