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interview: jean-louis bruguiere

The terrorist threat is today more globalized, more scattered and more powerful than it was before Sept. 11 and just after Sept. 11. How have things changed in your mind since 9/11?

The threat is before us, not behind us, and we are quite concerned about the resolution of the threat. I think that the terrorist threat is today more globalized, more scattered and more powerful than it was before Sept. 11 and just after Sept. 11. We have to face a worldwide threat.

It's more powerful?

Quite more powerful, because more scattered, you know? We have a lot of connections between many, many, many cells and tourist structures located in all the continents. And the problem is we have to discover the connection we have between one cell operating, for example in United States or in Canada, in North America, and another one in the Middle East or in the Far East. So we have to embrace a very, very large area to understand and to grasp the situation.

What is the situation in Europe, and in France in particular?

France was the first country to [respond] very toughly in such issues because we have a direct confrontation ... with groups coming from North Africa, especially Algeria. So we have quite good experience, and personally I am involved in such issues for 10 years. ...

We continue to have, in France, some cells, but we consider that these cells are under control. The problems that we have [is] the members of these cells move very quickly and change countries. That is quite easy in Europe, because there is no borders anymore within the area of Europe, and so you can change and go from one country -- go to France or Italia or Belgium or Spain without any control, with (unclear) zone. ...

Has the war in Iraq increased the threat?

Iraq, obviously, actually is a big problem. And the big problem on terrorist issues, for the threat. It's a factor of increasing and of worsening the situation. ...

How would you describe the level of sophistication of the jihad? There's implications that the Madrid bombing and other acts … have a definite political frame behind them. It isn't just an attack to create chaos, but the ideology is moving them to contemplate their attacks for specific purposes -- influencing an election, for example.

Yes. ... Of course there is quite a change in strategy and in the goal of the groups of this organization, of this movement. It's a global set, you know, sharing the same strategies to promote jihad.

photo of bruguiere

Jean-Louis Bruguiére is a French investigative judge who is one of the world's foremost authorities on terrorism. He says that since the Sept. 11 attacks, terrorism has become more dangerous because terrorists have scattered throughout the world. "It looks like a web," he says. "You don't have any direct connections. ... It's a mutated thing, the system." Bruguiére points to the Madrid bombings as well as the November 2003 bombings in Istanbul as examples of an increased political sophistication behind terrorists' motives. He explains how the French legal system has been used as a preventative tool and says France's counterterrorism apparatus is efficient because of a "synergy" between its law enforcement and intelligence operations, as well as external partnerships with other countries. This interview was conducted on Oct. 12, 2004.

I think what is quite new is to target right now two things: the political agenda of the states, try to intervene directly to manipulate the agenda. You have a good example with Madrid, and before that with the attack in November 2003 in Turkey at the same time [as] the state visit of the president of the United States in London, the United Kingdom.

And the [other] elements that were important to these groups are to target economic and especially the finance issues and problems. If you target, for example, financial places at New York or London or Tokyo, that could have very important consequences on the general confidence and direct [consequences] on the markets. And so the big problem at the present time is the price, rate of oil. Such issues or operations could have a direct consequence on this level. ...

So you're saying there's an increase in political sophistication?

Yes, yes, yes. And as well as that, that they have the capability and the willingness to use new systems, military systems.

And the organization system, you say, is scattered?

Very, very scattered. ... The system is absolutely scattered and is developing on the large basis in a horizontal way. It looks like a web. You don't have any direct connections.

We have one cell with another cell, and we don't know why these individuals have direct meeting or why [they are] in connection with the others. We know after that, but you can't foresee that, and you can't understand why you have this connection.

There's no one giving orders?

It's a mutated thing, the system.

Mutated?

Yes, absolutely. It looks like a virus. You have this one; you know it can arise, but you can't grasp [what it is], because it's changing. And if you don't have good formations on relationships in each cell, and if you don't have the flexible minds to understand that this connection could be relevant today, but not two days after this --

[Will] the growing Islamic population in France and all through Europe keep the level of danger high?

No. You know, we should be very, very, very prudent. There are two things. We have Islamic populations and Islamic radical groups. It's very small, you know. Reported[ly], in fact, with an immigrant population we have in France basically roughly 5 million individuals who are Muslim. ... And so only a small fringe -- it's difficult to tell you numbers -- [are radical]. ...

What makes France different?

The French system is more efficient than maybe the others for many reasons. First, all is centralized in Paris. All is central -- national and international relations. ...

Secondly, we have direct and operational connections with intelligence. That's important. We have created a synergy between law enforcement and intelligence. ... That's important to reinforce and to improve our knowledge, our capacity to respond. It's important.

Third, we have built a very important set of connections outside with our partners and especially with the United States, but also with all the partners in Europe as well as in other countries in the Middle East. We have very good connections and very good partnership in the Middle East, and also right now in the southeast of Russia, which could be targeted in the next [attack].

We should be prudent also. And that is very important to build, have a very important international connection. We can't win this war -- it's a war -- if we are not mobilized in other countries.

You know, the criticism of you is you do massive response. You go and arrest 140 people, which is not possible in most other countries. Is that overreaction on your part? How do you respond to the criticism of these massive arrests of Algerians or Iranians or potential suspects?

We have in France legal provisions which allow this, to arrest all people who are [or] could be suspected or implicated in the plots.

By association?

Yes, yes, conspiracy for terrorism. It's a legal weapon, and this legal weapon could be efficient in order for the state to carry out a good response and to prevent actions. And I prefer to use this legal response than not to use one, because what is important for the populations is prevention. ...

How sophisticated have the jihadists become since 9/11? We understand that they now eat and drink alcohol or act as if they are not, for example, religious in order to pass, in order to get through your net, as you put it.

You put your finger on one aspect of the situation, what they call a Takfir behavior.

Takfir behavior?

Takfir wal-Hijra is a sect … very, very, very radical. Very radical. And all the members are living, look like undercover. They are not Islamic-looking, you know. They have no beards; they just have a tie. And sometimes it is very difficult to discover. They drink alcoholic beverages if necessary; yes, have a sandwich with pork inside -- is no problem.

So the visible signs -- it's quite impossible to discover, but they have, you know, two caps, two lives. One is the official, so you can't have any information about it. The second, they are very radical, and they built secret connections. They have safe houses, and they have other groups, and they built secretly some operational bases and supports, in order to carry out operations.

Sounds like the Hamburg cells in their behavior.

Some of them could be more sophisticated than they are.

More sophisticated?

Yes, yes. ... The Takfir is a very [serious] problem. We have a lot in Europe; many, many cells, many groups belongs to Takfir or share the behaviors of Takfir.

Here in France?

Of course. We know it very well, and that's that. We discovered these groups in 1998. We know before that about that. But we have not experienced this directly of the behaviors and as a direct functioning of these groups in Europe. ...

How great is the threat of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons?

We have no information, absolutely not, concerning the nuclear weapon, and I don't think that could be a real threat in the future because it's too difficult. But it's true that we have some information that some groups located in Europe but also elsewhere, especially in the Caucasus area, has been trained in special camps in the zone in order to build biological and chemical systems and bombs.

And right now some of them -- because they have been trained, and there exists some connections in this country -- could have the capability to carry out such an operation. Yes, it is a big concern. ...

[Is the terrorist threat] increasing?

Sure, I think it's increasing. And it's a major concern for us. We are in the middle of the tunnel; we don't know the end of it. And so we have to improve first the awareness, the consciousness of the situation, and secondly, all relevant methods and resources in all the countries in order to analyze properly the situations and in order to carry out a proper, a good response.

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posted jan. 25, 2005

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