- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Terror ‘morphing’

The prime minister of Singapore last night warned the United States that terrorists responsible for many deadly attacks in Southeast Asia are evolving into a “loose web” that will be more difficult to stop.

Lee Hsien Loong said the Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah, which is linked to the terrorist network al Qaeda, has survived a crackdown by authorities who have arrested its leaders and disrupted its “operational capacity.”

“The terrorist attacks in London remind us that the threat remains urgent and deadly, even though the Taliban have been ousted in Afghanistan and many al Qaeda leaders have been killed or captured,” Mr. Lee told the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council at its annual Washington meeting. ASEAN is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

“The Jemaah Islamiyah’s operational capacity has been disrupted by arrests and detentions in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, but JI is morphing into a loose web of dispersed individuals highly resistant to penetration and detection and still fanatically determined to die for their cause.

“They are also tapping into other groups in the region to provide manpower and support.”

Mr. Lee raised an alarm about terrorists making plans to attack oil tankers in the Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The strait is the channel between Malaysia and Indonesia through which 30 percent of world trade and 50 percent of the world’s oil is shipped.

“If this vital artery were disrupted, it would have immediate and far-reaching economic and strategic repercussions,” he said.

Mr. Lee said his government remains a committed ally of the United States in the war on terrorism.

“We also support the war in Iraq and are happy that the successful elections in January have prepared the way to a constitution and a democratically elected government for Iraq,” he said.

Mr. Lee urged the United States to conduct more public diplomacy in the Muslim world, citing his government as an example. He said that when authorities cracked the Jemaah Islamiyah network in Singapore, they also reached out to the country’s Muslims, who form the second largest religious group there, to assure them that “our target was the terrorists and not the community at large.”

He noted that U.S. relief efforts after the Dec. 26 tsunami “made a difference to Muslim attitudes” but warned that attitude “has to be sustained over time.”

“This will be a test not of America’s military hardware and equipment but of your other great strengths: openness, generosity and compassion. These characteristics have earned America admiration and respect all over the world,” he said.

“You must draw on them now to win over public opinion, correct misperceptions and build trust and credibility in the Muslim world, including the moderate Muslims in Southeast Asia.

“America has always been a powerful beacon, inspiring the world with the ideal of the equal dignity and worth of humanity and the promise of a peaceful and benevolent power. America must continue to be that beacon of hope for the world and for all of us in Asia.”

Back in Singapore

Singaporean President S.R. Nathan yesterday announced plans to run for re-election and is likely to face no opponents.

Mr. Nathan was Singapore’s ambassador to the United States from 1990 to 1996. He was first elected president in 1999, when he ran unopposed.

In April, the 81-year-old president said he planned to retire, but his recent activities, including many appearances at press events, signaled he was likely to run again, according to reports from Singapore.

The president can veto government budgets and pardon convicted criminals, but most of his duties are ceremonial.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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