- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

HONOLULU Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was in Southeast Asia yesterday to discuss terrorism with his counterparts in the region where, according to a fresh, meticulously researched assessment, Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network is pervasive and will be hard to dislodge.
Foreign ministers from the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members cleared away the last obstacles yesterday to an anti-terrorism agreement that will bring the U.S.-led war on terrorism more effectively to their countries.
The agreement, to be signed at the two-day ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Brunei, will increase U.S. technical and financial aid against terrorism, increase the sharing of intelligence information and boost cooperation among law enforcement agencies.
The target of the agreement is Muslim extremists who seek to drive the United States out of Southeast Asia, establish strict Islamic regimes in Indonesia and Malaysia and eventually establish a pan-Islamic nation comprising Indonesia, Malaysia, the southern Philippines and southern Thailand. The former two nations have Muslim majorities now and the latter two regions are heavily Muslim.
The United States has become increasingly concerned about the region since its war against the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan. People linked to al Qaeda have been arrested in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, and the United States has sent 600 soldiers to help the Philippines battle Muslim extremists there.
New details of al Qaeda's activity in the region are laid out in an analysis by Zachary Abuza, a political scientist and director of the Asia program at Simmons College in Massachusetts, who reports that the cell in Malaysia is the largest and is responsible for al Qaeda's finances. Singapore has been an operational center while the Philippines has been a logistics hub, his report says.
Mr. Abuza says that the least is known about the cell in Indonesia, but that it may be the most dangerous because of the breakdown of government authority in that country.
"New ties between Indonesia and al Qaeda are being uncovered at an alarming rate," his report says. "Until Indonesia begins to get serious about the threat of terrorism, it will remain al Qaeda's next great frontier.
Mr. Abuza's study finds that most Southeast Asia terror leaders were recruited to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviet occupation force in the 1980s, when about 1,000 Southeast Asians battled alongside 35,000 Muslim radicals .
In 1995, al Qaeda terrorists planned an elaborate operation called "Oplan Bojinka" to blow up 11 passenger airliners over the Pacific nearly simultaneously, killing as many as 4,000 people.
The plot was foiled not by good intelligence or police work but by accident when a fire broke out in a terrorist's apartment in Manila where chemicals were being mixed for the bombs. The terrorists fled and some were later arrested.
The researcher says bin Laden's followers have penetrated the region with two sorts of operations: First, they have set up independent cells, usually with a handful of members, some of whom are Arabs living in Southeast Asia.
Second, they have played on political dissent or poverty to take over organizations or companies and turn them into cogs within the al Qaeda network. Its infiltration into Southeast Asia has been aided by corrupt governments and law enforcement agencies.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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