Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 98-113)




  98. Professor Paul Wilkinson, we welcome you to the Committee. You are the Director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews. You are a prolific author, your most recent book being Terrorism Versus Democracy: The Liberal State Response, published last year. Professor Wilkinson, let us start with the basics and definitions of terrorism. There is no UN agreed definition of terrorism. There have been various attempts to do so, and it complicates attempts within the United Nations to reach consensus. In your judgment, is there a realistic prospect of the international community ever agreeing a definition of terrorism? Can you make an attempt to give your own definition?
  (Professor Wilkinson) I think, Mr Chairman, it is going to be very difficult to get agreement in the United Nations among all the members of the Security Council and the General Assembly. As you know, attempts at a general convention against terrorism, specifically using the concept of terrorism, failed in the 1970s; and attempts to revive the project in the 1980s and1990s also came unstuck. I think we are going to find difficulties in getting a definition that satisfies everybody. However, because I have been working in this field for over 30 years, I would record an improvement in the understanding internationally of what is meant by terrorism among diplomats, among international jurists, among governments that have been increasingly concerned about the threat of this mode of violence to their own populations, to the security of their own diplomatic facilities etc. Therefore, although this is one of those slippery terms in political strategic usage which is very difficult to define in just a few words, I think that the essential core meaning which differentiates terroristic violence, the weapon of terror, whether used by states or by sub-states, those core elements are more generally accepted than ever in my experience in working in this field. There has been an inching forward towards greater convergence. If I can attempt the second part of your question: from a social science point of view I would define terrorism as a mode of violence which involves, first of all, the deliberate aim to create a climate of extreme fear; secondly, it is directed at a wider audience than the immediate victims of the violence—so in a sense it is a psychological weapon, and has been very widely used by sub-states in an asymmetrical conflict which seems to be a way of compensating for a lack of military strength; thirdly, it involves random and symbolic targets, including civilians. Of course, it is that which has created particular outrage amongst communities in which this kind of violence occurs. Fourthly, it is, of course, seen by those communities, and increasingly by the international community, as a violation of the norms of political dissent, political debate and opposition. I must say this is even the case in countries where there has been very prolonged terrorism. It is still something which causes outrage, shock, grief, trauma among the population, however much they are battered by it. Lastly, I think it is still the case that terrorism is used primarily as a weapon to create political change, to cause political change, along the lines desired by the perpetrators and planners of the terrorism. That, of course, does allow for the groups that claim a religious motivation and use religious language but who have a political agenda, very clear political agenda, to claim that they are doing it in the name of a Holy war or Jihad in the case of political Islamist terrorists.

  99. That is helpful. How great an obstacle is it in terms of international cooperation that there is no agreed definition?
  (Professor Wilkinson) It is an obstacle to getting a general convention, I think, in the United Nations. It is not any longer, I think, a main obstacle to practical cooperation, because so many governments, particularly since the tragic events of 11 September, now accept that this is a form of violence which is a strategic threat to the well being of the international community, to peace and security and of course, as we have seen increasingly, to the global economy; because you cannot divorce such an important economy as the United States from the global economy. Because that is understood much more clearly than ever before, I think the practical cooperation does not get preceded, as it were, by days of debate about what terrorism actually is. Actually the way in which the international organisations have made progress in this field, as you know, is by increasingly identifying typical tactics that terrorists use, such as hostage taking, the hijacking of aircraft, the sabotage bombing of aircraft, the bombing of public places, shooting members of the public and assassinations; and, having identified those, establishing international conventions which are very important actually. The UN conventions are often decried but they do form a very important set of standards. I have discovered, in going round so many countries to talk to their policy-makers, governments and lawyers, that they are using those UN conventions as a basis for designing their own national laws; because at least this provides a framework which then they can incorporate in their own law.

Sir John Stanley

  100. Professor Wilkinson, the stated objective of President Bush, Prime Minister Blair and the international coalition is the elimination of al-Qaeda as a terrorist organisation worldwide. I am interested, first, to get your perspective as to how far we are towards achieving that objective. Clearly, the success of the military operation against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan showed a speed of success that was, I think, way beyond virtually anybody's expectations when that particular operation started; but we are told that al-Qaeda operates in 50-plus countries, and we know that Mr bin Laden and Mullah Omar are probably still at large with some significant numbers of their senior people. Could you help the Committee and give us your expert judgment as to how far we are along the scale of possibilities in terms of the elimination of al-Qaeda internationally? Do you consider as of now, following the Afghanistan operation, that al-Qaeda is mortally wounded; or would you say that al-Qaeda is seriously but not fatally wounded; or would you possibly say that al-Qaeda has really suffered only a relatively minor injury? Where do you judge we are on the scale towards the ultimate achievement of that objective?
  (Professor Wilkinson) Sir John, could I just go back to your initial assumption. I think actually the United States Government has a more grandiose aim: it is to eliminate terrorism, full stop. I do think that that is a very ambitious aim, having followed for years the difficulties in doing this. I do not underestimate the determination, and the tremendous changes that have been wrought in public opinion in America and elsewhere; but I do think it would be an extremely difficult thing to achieve the total eradication of terrorism in our lifetime, or indeed in this century. It is such a deeply embedded mode of violence. It is the most ubiquitous, from the point of view of sub-state groups, the most widely used tool of political violence, of all methods of political violence available to them. It is very hard to see, with all the varieties of terrorism, how one could possibly achieve that very broad objective. One of my problems with that phrase "the war on terrorism" is that it is rather like the "war on drugs" slogan, it is so vague that it creates perhaps an expectation which is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to fulfil. The other problem, of course, is this notion that war (which of course the average person in the street takes to mean military operations rather than the metaphorical use) that military operations are going to be the be all and end all—if only you can bring military force very effectively to bear on the bases, the training camps and places where you know the leading personalities and vehicles are based—that that will somehow cause the collapse of the terrorist organisations. I think those are unfortunately errors in our assessment of the nature of terrorism.

To come to the second part of your question—I think that the military campaign in Afghanistan certainly has delivered a great blow against al-Qaeda, after all it has removed the regime which was giving it succour. It is clear from the information we have now gathered we had an enormous intelligence gap about al-Qaeda. It is true, much of this has only really come to light since the military campaign; but it is clear that the Taliban and al-Qaeda were interwoven, in a way, and probably Osama bin Laden had considerable influence upon the policies of the Taliban regime itself. This is an unusually close relationship between a terrorist group and a government. I think it is also clear that this campaign has disrupted the communications between bin Laden and his lieutenants and organisers. However, I would not go as far as saying, taking your options, that we are anywhere near actually destroying the al-Qaeda network. I would take the middle position. They have certainly suffered a severe blow, but they are still very much in business. The reason for that is, inherently this organisation is organised on transnational lines—it has been from the start; and we underestimated (and by that I am blaming us in the academic community too because we are only reliant on open sources) the extent to which it had become diffused all over the world, including in the Western countries themselves, where they have taken advantage of the openness and freedoms of our society to move freely across our borders, to entrench support networks, cells and plan attacks with, as we have seen in the case of 11 September, meticulous planning involved. We have here a network that is still extremely dangerous. I think it is to the great credit of HMG that that has been understood from the start. I know that warnings have been given by the Prime Minister and by the Home Secretary to head off any idea that we should be complacent and assume that, because there has been a tremendous speed in undermining and toppling the Taliban regime, this somehow means we can sit back and assume that the problem is solved. It is far from being solved, because of the horizontal network system al-Qaeda has developed. This means that there are regional organisations which are quite capable of operating autonomously or quasi-autonomously with the ideology that has been inculcated into them with people who are perfectly competent at terrorism. As we have seen, they do make mistakes, thank goodness; but, unfortunately, not as many mistakes as we need them to make if we are going to uncover and dismantle all these cells. It means, therefore, that the training facilities that were situated in Afghanistan that have been destroyed does not mean that al-Qaeda is robbed of training facilities. They can use camps in Kashmir; they are still using training a facilities as far away as the Philippines, where they have kindred movements or affiliated groups which are full of people who are signed up to Bin Ladin's agenda. This is one of the problems that we need to address in discussing with the United States the importance of the international coalition. There is a tendency in some quarters in the United States, perhaps particularly in the Pentagon rather than in the State department, to assume that the coalition is not really a terribly important part of the strategy; it is the military force that they stress. I think the coalition is absolutely essential if one is going to have an effect on this very transnational network. We need the sharing of intelligence: we need the national judicial frameworks within these countries that have cells within their borders to take the sort of action which Britain, I am afraid rather late in the day, and the United States, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, are taking now in the light of the severity of the problem.

  101. You have been extremely interesting but have actually moved into my second question, and I would still like to take it a bit further with you. What I was going to ask you was that, if you received a commission from President Bush or Prime Minister Blair—possibly you have from the latter, I do not know—and were asked to write a paper from either or both of them to advise them as to how, post the operation against the Taliban and al-Qaeda regime in Afghanistan, they should set about trying to make further substantial progress towards the elimination of terrorism in toto, as you have put it, what would be the guiding points of policy and practicality that you would be pressing on the British government and on the American government and on the wider international community? What would be your advice to them?
  (Professor Wilkinson) I think I would stress three absolutely vital, in my view, components. Firstly, the intelligence battle. We have to make up this huge deficit we have in intelligence about the internal organisation intentioned plans of the cells and the regional horizontal organisation of al-Qaeda, and that battle can only be won by improving the quality of human intelligence—HumInt—which we gather. Because there has been such a dependence on technical intelligence, particularly by our American allies, we have a big gap to fill. We need to train more people who are language qualified, who have the Muslim faith, who understand the Muslim world. After all, we have many, many law abiding and bright young Muslims in our universities and technical institutes who I think should be recruited into our intelligence effort, because they know that their people have suffered terribly at the hands of terrorists. It is not often realised that the majority of victims of civilian populations killed and injured by terrorism have been living in the countries where these groups originate, and therefore I think we would be able to recruit them. Of course, it is a longer term effort: this is not something you can do overnight, but that would be the first element in my tripartite priorities. I think it is absolutely crucial because, unless we get that, we are not going to be able to be proactive and intervene to capture the groups before they can carry out attacks of the sort that they carried out in New York.

Secondly, I would emphasise the criminal justice role, so often denigrated because it is slow, because it is cumbersome, and because sometimes it comes to outcomes which perhaps surprise the public and the law enforcement authorities. Nevertheless, the track record in bringing leading terrorists to book in recent years has been greatly improved. If you look at Carlos the Jackal, Ramzi Yousef, the four involved in the bombings of the East African embassies who were found to be members of the al-Qaeda organisation, the evidence brought in those criminal trials was overwhelming and very impressive for the international community. Justice was seen to be done: it might have been slow but better slow justice than no justice, and I think we need to improve the judicial co-operation and get much greater grip on the problem of bringing these people to justice. This means trying to wean the intelligence experts away from the idea that intelligence has to be so protected that we must never turn it into evidence that will stand up in court. Somehow we have to re-educate those intelligence personnel who are reluctant to take things to court that, at the end of the day, the object is to protect democratic society and the rule of law and you do have to bring them to court. If you have evidence, you must prosecute and that will then at least take out of harm's way those who are found guilty of terrorist crime, and I hope the United States will be persuaded not to abandon its improving record in criminal justice because it is much more effective in persuading the international community of the justice of their position than using a kind of limbo treatment of military tribunals which can issue the death sentence without any appeal held in large part in secret in which the courts would be staffed by military officers. That is not going to carry much credibility, even with our European allies let alone with the global community, and, as I have said, we should be interested in keeping that global coalition in being. This is one way in which it could be rather undermined, I think, if we do not get that clear message that America is upholding that tradition which I rather admired in America—the tradition of taking criminal justice very seriously, total independence of the courts, and the recognition of the rights of the suspect, which are built into the American constitution.

My third pillar is one that we have neglected perhaps more than any other which is, to put it crudely—and I am afraid it is a shorthand but you will understand it is not a satisfactory description but I think it gets the point across—we need to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. The vast population we often forget not only in Arab countries but in countries where there are large Islamist minorities or where there are Islamist countries outside the Arab world, and we need to try and maintain their support for a campaign against a form of violence which, as I said, has injured them gravely and set back their own development and democratisation, and I think the way to do that is to ensure that we make the leadership of the strategy much more genuinely multilateral. Let us give the UN Security Council credit. They did react quickly to the September attacks; they have set up the Counter Terrorism Committee under the Chairmanship of our distinguished representative, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, and they are making progress in setting out the system for assessing how far countries that have signed up to the conventions are actually implementing them. That is a big step forward: it is the UN becoming proactive for the first time ever in this business of monitoring terrorism. So I strongly recommend and I would be urging, if I were ever asked to write a paper by our Prime Minister, that the United Nations be encouraged to take this much more leading role - something they were reluctant to do in the 1970s and 1908s—and I think they should be given every encouragement to embark upon greater efforts in disarmament, often forgotten in looking at measures against terrorism. If you can increase the impact of disarmament and arms control negotiations to make it more possible to deny these groups the weapons that they could use as weapons of mass destruction in terrorism, that would be a greater contribution to making the world safer. Unfortunately we framed all these conventions—Chemical Weapons, Biological, et cetera—in an era where we thought of rogue states as the only threat. There are now rogue groups which are very dangerous. I do not doubt that, if al-Qaeda had had access to chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, or a dirty bomb which would be relatively easy for them to make, I fear they would use it and therefore we need to concentrate on the weapons issue and get international co-operation to staunch the flow, the proliferation, of these materials into the hands of rogue states and terrorist organisations.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  102. You may not be writing a paper for the Prime Minister but perhaps at some stage you would write one for us, Professor Wilkinson, because it is very fascinating! I would like to take you on, really, beyond the third of your pillars because what is quite clear is that Bin Ladin and his associates are venerated as heroes, almost saintly figures, in large parts of the Muslim world and that obviously is extremely disconcerting. You say that the United States and we have to win hearts and minds: how do we best do that? Perhaps you could expand a little on that because it seems to me that is at the root of winning the battle.
  (Professor Wilkinson) I think that is a terribly important but difficult question to answer. One of the things we must do is to ensure that we demonstrate in our policies and in the way, for example, that we go about the reconstruction and the rehabilitation of Afghanistan and the way we deal with prisoners who come into our hands in the coalition, that we are representing values which are the absolute opposite of the values that are upheld by the terrorists. Action speaks louder than words: if we show that we can treat these problems with humanity and with the kind of restraint that we have shown in the past, I would claim, in dealing with terrorism, then that I think sends a message that we represent the values of a rule of law, democratic society. That is one important area.

  103. Does it really send a message though, to the suicide bomber, the young man who is absolutely persuaded that he is going to achieve some form of bliss, nirvana, if he sacrifices his own life? How do you get across to those young people?
  (Professor Wilkinson) I think that part of it has to be done by the religious leaders of the countries concerned, and we have neglected the business of involving the religious leaders of the mainstream mosques and the teaching Imams in the schools that teach the Muslim religion. We have failed, it seems to me, to involve them more in discussions about the dangers of violent extremism, and they are in a position to influence the younger generation and to prevent their mosques being used, sometimes without even the leader of the mosque being fully aware that their facilities are being abused in this way. It may only be small numbers recruited in places like the mosques that have been highlighted in the press in London but these tiny numbers are enough to create a further terrorism problem, because if they are, as you say, fanatically committed to the cause and they are prepared to die in the business of launching an attack, it becomes extremely difficult for an open society to guard against it, so I do agree this is a major problem. I think we need to enlist the religious leaders, and, of course, enlisting their help means time and again emphasising the message which our Prime Minister and, although I have not seen so many comments of this nature, the President has issued, which is that our quarrel is not with Islam and those who want to set up a new clash of religions or world religious systems are speaking a lot of dangerous stuff. I would strongly favour emphasising the importance of a multi religious coalition against terrorism because it is the nature of terrorism itself that we are opposing: it is a threat to human rights: it is not a form of violence which we can tolerate as a means of furthering objectives in the international community, therefore we wish to enlist you and the help of your religion in this task.

  104. Is one of the other things we have to do to support regimes which we may not regard as perfect but, nevertheless, which have a good record of discipline with regard to terrorism within their midst? Do you think we have to be a little ambivalent in the advocacy of democratic principles, or do you think we have to be absolutely down the line advocating democracy whatever happens?
  (Professor Wilkinson) I think that we should be offering bilateral help to countries which show a willingness to move against this dangerous kind of extremism. Of course, some of them will not be democracies on the Westminster or Washington model but we should, nevertheless, try by bilateral diplomacy, by offering a carefully calibrated technical assistance, to help them to deal with the lawless areas in their midst because basically, and this is a problem which I am sure you have addressed very frequently in the Committee, our problem is that, even if we tomorrow succeeded in closing down every remaining residue of al-Qaeda and Taliban influence in Afghanistan, there are lawless areas where these people still find it relatively easy to move funds, to train people, to formulate their plans, and therefore we need to try to insist on countries collaborating, co-operating peacefully with us. The American model which they have recently adopted with Yemen and are now offering the Philippine government is a very interesting one, and we might from time to time, though being aware that we are already overstretched and must be careful, offer to assist in such roles, that is helping the host government in an agreed programme to close down the terrorist training camps or systems within their own countries. These should not be regarded as terrorist states. In most cases the countries that have been mentioned by those in favour of widening the war in the Pentagon are countries which are failed or failing states that are simply not strong enough to take the steps needed, and therefore we need to work with them to deal with problems which, as in the Philippines, are a terrible nightmare to the government of the day and help them to resolve them, and I think that is a model which has a great deal to commend it. It does not have the risk of a wider war built into it.

Mr Olner

  105. Moving along the same route, does the absence of democracy in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states contribute to the popularity of extremism?
  (Professor Wilkinson) It would be in a way rather heartening to think that it did but I do not think there is any sign that the people who admire Bin Ladin's ideas are demanding a kind of democracy on western lines. Their interest is in a theocracy that would be rather like the Taliban theocracy, and you cannot imagine a sort of voting to live under such a system. I think that the problems of democratisation will need be addressed over a long period. It is not going to be easy to bring that process about, but I agree with you that it is something we should be doing. It is rather like the peace efforts we are making in the Middle East—Britain and other countries because it has to be multilateral—to try and bring a rejuvenation of the peace process. It is something we should be doing in any case, and we have been doing for a long while. Democratisation it seems to me is very important and, of course, we must hope that it succeeds but in the meantime it is in our interest and the interests of the international community to help these countries to steer themselves away from the use of their territory by criminal gangs, many of them into international organised crime in a big way—money laundering, drugs, people smuggling and so on; it is in our interests to reduce that illegality, and to encourage governments by other channels and by all possible means to increase the democratisation and liberalisation of the political system.

  106. How do you explain, then, that young people from this country and some young people from America are attracted to forces like al-Qaeda and what-have-you?
  (Professor Wilkinson) I think in part they are attracted by the idea that this religious belief is a superior pure form of Islam, which, again, is why it is so important to enlist the mainstream religious teachers and schools to show that, in fact, this is a very skewed interpretation of the Koran indeed. The Koran does not give any legitimation for the idea of killing women and children—it is specifically prohibited—and Mr Blair in some very useful statements he made quite early after the September 11 events pointed out the important ways in which Islam had been traduced and libelled by the people claiming to act on its behalf. I think what you are really seeing in the young people who are lured into these extremist groups is people who are gulled by very ruthless people who are committed to a skewed, distorted idea of holy war and a hatred of the west and the United States.

  107. I do not disagree with what you are saying but I am just wondering whether the west has won the propaganda battle? We are not fighting Islam but it seems to some people that they are fighting us.
  (Professor Wilkinson) I think we have won the silent majority. There is a great deal of —

  108. Does it not worry you that they are silent?
  (Professor Wilkinson) It does and yet, if one looks at the traditions of those countries, if you take Pakistan, it has been a very volatile country. You can understand people being reluctant to come openly out into the streets when they know they will meet people with absolutely diametrically opposed views who are prepared to be quite violent or threatening, but the fact is that our specialists, and they are in touch with specialists who talk to other institutes and universities around Asia, are quite sure that the silent majority in Pakistan did not want terrorism to be taking over their government or dominating their system and they are glad to see steps being taken against it. They see it as dangerous to their own community and they are very upset about what happened in America. This is the common view among Muslims in India, as I have spoken to them, and Muslims in Pakistan whom my colleagues have spoken to in the Centre.

Mr Maples

  109. Continuing this line, can we focus on one country particularly which is Saudi Arabia, where the whole structure of the state is based on a deal essentially between the Royal family and the Wahabi branch of Sunni Islam. We say this is not a religious battle but do you not agree that this particular branch of Sunni Islam is at the heart of al-Qaeda and Islam extremism? Secondly, if the structure of the Saudi state continues as it is, it is on its way to being a failed state. It is not succeeding in providing jobs and standards of living, and has no outlet for dissent except the mosque, which is why young people not happy with the government do take to this kind of extremism because there is no other outlet for any dissent that they might want. There is no effort to introduce any democratisation and we are terrified of pushing it too hard, because we have seen all over South America what happens if you support essentially right wing autocratic regimes. You get the revolution—you have it in Iran. How do you see this unfolding? How does the west in its policy to Saudi Arabia—which is unfortunately in this respect crucial for oil supplies otherwise it would be rather easier to deal with—square a difficult circle in trying to remove the part that Saudi Arabia plays in this unholy equation?
  (Professor Wilkinson) I think it is worth bearing in mind that the Saudi Royal family took great exception to the statements of Bin Ladin and expelled him and withdrew his citizenship, and Bin Ladin has made threats against the Saudi system because he sees it as having betrayed the principles of true "Bin Ladin style" Islam.

  110. But it is the foundation of Wahabi.
  (Professor Wilkinson) Yes, but one has to remember that there are groups within the Saudi system who are privately helping by sending money to Bin Ladin but the official position of the ruling family is that they are against the kind of extremism that Bin Ladin represents. They are certainly unhappy about a close long term involvement of foreign forces near holy places because that is part of their religious position, but I do not think that these rumours of an absolutely final conflict, as it were, a showdown between the Saudi leadership and the American government, are based on a really clear understanding of what the Saudi authorities are about. What they are doing is trying simply to ensure that they are given a chance to discuss these future relationships with America. I do not think that they are necessarily heading for a total withdrawal from alliance with the United States because it would be against their own security interests, so the Guardian story the other day which looked somewhat apocalyptic to American commentators, was based on rumours and private opinions of people who had been spoken to by the correspondent, but I cannot find anybody in the State department or in the National Security Council who can say there has been an official demand of that sort from the Saudi authorities, so I think the idea that there is a huge breach that is not going to be healed is a speculative report that some of the press have taken up. I am not under-estimating the dangers of the failure to democratise the arbitrary nature of the system and, of course, the way in which some private individuals are still fuelling the Bin Ladin organisation and similar affiliates with considerable amounts of money. I think that is something we must try to persuade the Saudi authorities to take action on.

  111. I wanted to move back to some questions Sir John Stanley was asking you earlier. Why do you think we, by which I mean primarily the United States but, secondly, the United Kingdom, did nothing about al-Qaeda in the 1990s when they blew up American barracks and killed American soldiers, injured 5,000 people in the African embassy bombings, and in late 2000 around the time of the presidential elections they blew up the USS Cole? Why did the Clinton administration not respond in any way as far as we can see, even stepping up intelligence because they knew nothing about the September 11 attacks until they hit them, and do nothing in response to what was very obviously by then perhaps not as extensive an international organisation as we now realise it is but certainly more than a couple of terrorists in a flat in Damascus? Do you think that the British authorities tolerated the presence of Islamic extremists in Britain on the understanding that as long as they did not do anything in Britain it was okay, they could stay here, because it is now emerging that quite a lot of these people were based here. I assume our intelligence services knew who they were; some of them did not hide themselves. In retrospect, was it not counter-productive to allow these people to operate here on the basis that as long as they did not blow up British buildings they could stay here?
  (Professor Wilkinson) On the first point, intelligence failure is the heart of the reason why the Americans did not understand the severity of the threat against them. I do not think they really had any idea of the extensiveness, as you put it yourself, of this movement and the degree to which they were training for attacks against American targets, not only in third countries, but within the United States homeland. Secondly, the criminal justice system has been very often regarded as a rather cumbersome and, if you like, ineffective way of combatting terrorism and this may explain why President Clinton turned down the offer of extradition in 1996 from the Sudanese. In retrospect that seems an absolutely disastrous decision because he could have been brought to justice at that time, and there was already a lot of material available on the open sources to show what Bin Ladin was preaching and what he was about. I think that was a tragic mistake and that was followed up by two further opportunities that were missed—one offered by Qatar, where they offered to extradite him when he was en route from Sudan to Afghanistan with his retinue, changing his location, and that again was missed, and I believe there was also a third occasion, though the details of that are a little murkier. Nevertheless, this was a decision made on a lack of intelligence about the severity of the threat and a failure to want to take on the difficult—and it certainly was a challenging—job of using the criminal justice system to deal with him.


  112. And the UK position?
  (Professor Wilkinson) The UK position I think is one where we were concentrating rather understandably on the Northern Ireland spillover of violence from the anti-agreement people, and that has been a problem as you know, and I think we had a tradition of rather assuming that, if people were not attacking British targets, really we should not give such a high priority to intelligence work on networks that were simply support networks or were seen to be supporters and sympathisers in this country. Incidentally, France had a rather similar record until it began to suffer from the waive of GIA terrorism and I think it is interesting that France learned from that. We, I think, did not learn from the French lessons. If we had, we would have really stepped up our monitoring of the Islamist extremist groups, and we would have been ahead of the game. Instead of that, I am afraid we did not do it.

  113. How relevant in your view is the treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to the wider war against terrorism?
  (Professor Wilkinson) I think it is extremely relevant because I think it is crucial to keep the coalition strong and united, and this is one of those issues which could cause a division and possible fragmenting of the alliance which would be very serious in my view. I hope that the British government's representations behind the scenes do have the effect of persuading our allies that this is something that they should attend to and that they should handle under the norms of international law.

  Chairman: Your evidence has been extremely valuable to the Committee and I thank you very much.

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