- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

PARIS — The al Qaeda terror network remains a serious threat, with sleeper cells and agents who “are always ready to act,” the world’s top justice and interior ministers said yesterday.”Terrorism continues to present both a pervasive and global threat to our societies,” ministers from the Group of Eight nations said in a statement.They also warned of a risk that terrorists may use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in attacks.”We must address ways to anticipate and respond to such threats,” the statement said.The ministers also said al Qaeda still appears to have terrorist bases.”The threat from the al Qaeda network remains serious,” the ministers said. “In spite of the elimination of most of its bases in Afghanistan, it seems that other camps have been reactivated in other areas.”The statement gave no details. But French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said al Qaeda apparently set up new operational bases in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and Russia’s Chechnya region.The ministers said al Qaeda’s “abilities have been shaken” by recent arrests, but added, “Dormant individuals and cells are always ready to act.”The G-8 ministers said they were determined to strengthen cooperation between their police forces and intelligence services to thwart terrorist attacks.”We don’t expect to lower our guard for a long time,” said Mr. Sarkozy, host of the one-day meeting that was a prelude to the June 1-3 summit of the G-8 — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States — in the French Alpine town of Evian.”All the G-8 countries have a similar analysis: The terrorist threat is real, it’s still present and apparently, alas, for a long time to come,” Mr. Sarkozy said.He dismissed concern that a bitter trans-Atlantic dispute between France and the United States about the war in Iraq may have undermined international cooperation in antiterror efforts.”French-American cooperation never stopped, because it concerns the security of our citizens,” he said. “Those disagreements [over Iraq] are real, but that does not necessitate disaccord on the fight against terrorism.”Attorney General John Ashcroft attended the meeting but not a later press conference.British Home Secretary David Blunkett agreed that the terrorist threat remains undiminished, but said the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq had dealt terrorism a blow.”Whilst we’ve removed one threat in relation to Iraq, a rogue state, and we’ve obviously damaged the morale of those who were able to draw on the tacit support of the regime, the network out there remains a problem,” Mr. Blunkett said. Mr. Sarkozy said the ministers also agreed to try to combat the forgery of travel documents and passports by using fingerprints and iris scanning.But they disagreed on which would be most effective. France and the United States will lead a study of the issue, Mr. Sarkozy said.

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