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interview: baltasar garzon

I do not consider that the war in Iraq is the only cause for the increase in terrorist attacks. It is one more reason. + Al Qaeda and Its Splinter Groups

As you know, as of Feb. 23, 1998, the International Islamic Front Against Jews and Crusaders was created. From that moment on, there have been a series of coordinated groups that could be labelled as Al Qaeda support groups. And as of 2001, there is an even greater dispersion of these types of groups and a series of splinter groups that do not need any type of coordination or link to Al Qaeda -- more than what some of their members, who belonged to those Afghan Arabs groups, may have.

There is no clearly defined statistic on how many they are. An estimate would be of close to 100 splinter groups of people that have such radical tendency and that could therefore potentially develop activities linked to Islamic terrorism. This does not mean that each and every one of the five or nine people that form each of these groups is a potential suicide terrorist. ...

The current situation with Al Qaeda -- and I don't have all the elements to say what the situation is, but I can say that perhaps Al Qaeda has become a sort of brand, a type of franchise to which all these splinter groups come, as well as individuals who can develop these type of activities. Al Qaeda has become an ideological reference that does not necessarily have to issue an order for these types of activities to be committed.

The leaders of Al Qaeda and its fundamental nucleus are still intact; at least there is no evidence that its main leaders have disappeared. What appears to be rather inefficient, in my point of view, is the military response to this type of vague terrorism that appears not to be as efficient as intended. ...

+ Salafism, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Global Jihad

I believe that all of these groups originate from the same view and the same approach: a distorted view of Islam, mainly Salafism, and within Salafism, Wahhabism -- this is part of what exists in Saudi Arabia today. And both phenomena come together to offer a deformed view of Islam, one that brings with it persecution of all that stands in the way of the elevation of Islam and the creation of the great international caliphate that Osama bin Laden mentions in his speeches and in his claims of responsibility [for acts]. ...

photo of garzon

Judge Baltasar Garzón is a Spanish magistrate known for his high-profile investigations of Al Qaeda, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and the Basque separatist organization ETA. Here are extended excerpts from his interview, in which he talks about the origins and evolution of Al Qaeda and its ideology, his reaction to the Madrid bombings, and why he feels the U.S. has been less than cooperative in his investigation. This interview was conducted in Spanish on July 27, 2004 and has been translated.

The objectives of these groups, of these movements, have an old, common element: the creation in 1928 of the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Since then, a complete theory began to develop, which later resulted in different movements and in different places around the world, and took shape in its current version since 1989, in part through the activity that Osama bin Laden and his predecessor began through the [Afghan jihad], and then with Al Qaeda.

At the same time, other movements formed within the global jihad that have a very clear origin in North Africa and are linked to the movements of Afghan Arabs, the mujahideen, who, after the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, abandoned arms, left and returned to their native countries with a very radical view, a very extremist view of Islam. They formed, for example, the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group [and] the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which are organizations or movements outside of Morocco and Libya. They were created in Afghanistan from '89, '90, '91 and came mainly to Morocco, and once there, linked to other movements with the same tendencies and created splinter groups that at first developed political-religious activities and became more radical until the current situation is reached, where there is confusion and fragmentation of movements under the same ideology.

The objective has remained the same: the war against the West; the war specifically against the head of the Western empire -- the U.S. -- and through it, any other countries and interests that, according to their beliefs, corrupt the true Islam and Muslim governments, which then become irreligious governments because they separate from the ideology they support.

+ Investigating Osama bin Laden

I have to be very cautious since Spanish law applies to me when I speak about cases that I have been involved in or that I am now involved in. I can tell you, in a general manner, that the investigation on Osama bin Laden and on the Spanish cells goes back to 1995. It is known that during that time, the activities performed by these groups were more of a logistic nature. In any case, Spain did not appear within the main objectives of these organizations that were very much related to the Algerian [conflict] and with the mujahideen movement which originated in Afghanistan or other points where there were conflicts, such as Chechnya or Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The investigation took place throughout the entire decade of the 1990s, but in terms of these specific groups, it began in 1995 and continued throughout the years until after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. A point in the investigation had then been reached where there was nowhere to go, but at the same time, it had not been possible to conclude the investigation before. And the arrests of November 2001 occurred and the judicial investigation began or continued, with the help of other countries, such as the U.S. ...

+ International Cooperation and Response in the Fight Against Terrorism

In terms of the type of terrorism we are talking about, the international element is basic. Throughout the investigations carried out in Spain, what was discovered was that around 20 countries were implicated in this investigation or could have a relation to it. From that point on, the communication with them must be done through international legal cooperation, through rogatory commissions. That means that each legal and judicial system must act to search documents, provide evidence and the information that are being requested.

There is no problem when you deal with countries where judicial cooperation is swift, as, for example, within the EU. It is much more complicated with the U.S. in terms of the established guidelines, mainly the Patriot Act, which made it impossible, or at least hindered in large measure the communication of judicial cooperation.

You must consider as well that there are areas of the investigation where the normal justice path did not have access, and there were countries with which there was no cooperation at all, as in the case of Yemen, Indonesia, Syria or Jordan, or countries with which there had never been this kind of cooperation, like Australia. It is difficult, then, to establish cooperation for obtaining evidence materials. It is also complicated. There have been different phases in which elements and people have joined the investigation.

All of this takes time, as do all cases of organized terrorism crimes of this magnitude. In fact, today, nearly three years after the investigation, the preparations are done and the trial is pending. ...

The difference in legislation, regulations, judicial systems, international regulations on legal cooperation and communication among institutions makes it difficult to obtain a response in real time. A judicial case has an activite period after which a judicial response has to be produced within certain acceptable margins.

Moreover, taking into consideration the maximum time of preventive imprisonment of a maximum of four years that exists in Spain -- two years plus an extension of two years -- if the response is not produced during this real time, it is as though it would not exist. If the response is at an intelligence level, and we are not capable of recreating this information with the judicial guarantees to a proceeding, then it serves no purpose. If an effective, swift and efficient coordination does not exist among the different police and judicial bodies within and outside of the corresponding country, this also becomes an almost insurmountable obstacle for the judicial response to be produced in the moment that it has to be produced and in the time it has to happen. ...

In my opinion, what needs to be done is to evolve into more agile formulas of cooperation that will lift these kinds of obstacles. And in order to do that, it is essential to recreate certain institutions, rethink certain regulations and, in particular, apply the existing ones with a vision of agility in order to confront the threat we need to confront, which is not an isolated one.

So what happens? This universal consciousness does not yet exist. Sept. 11, March 11 and everything that has taken place have shown us those elements that are lacking and have meant an important development.

+ Frustrations with the Fight Against Terrorism

There is always the risk that, as the cause is further separated from the effect -- that is, the massacres themselves form a response to them -- we again become victims of bureaucratic inertia. It doesn't seem important, but after 16 years of experience, I can tell you that the greatest difficulty in giving a judicial response is neither the difficulty in the interrogation of terrorists, nor in obtaining evidence in a particular country, but in getting it in time.

I believe that in the world of justice, one always lives with frustration. From the moment that we are incapable of giving an adequate response to the citizens, from the moment we are incapable of providing protection to them, there is always frustration. What matters are the lessons that can be drawn from the different models to counterterrorism that are available nowadays in the world.

There is one that I do not agree with at all. That is the war against terror outside of the limits of international lawfulness and the fight against terror within the rule of law. The second one, the Spanish and European model, has at least shown that it can produce swift and effective responses, at least in the persecution of those perpetrating the attack. It is true that it has not been enough to prevent it, but at least there has been a response within the law with all its guarantees. Today, and in record time, practically all those people involved in the attacks of March 11 are being detained and processed, and international and national activities have unfolded as a result of these investigations. I believe this is the way, and not the former one. ...

+ The U.S.'s "Lack of Cooperation" in Garzón's Investigation

It is true that there are responses that have not been produced and that, due to the difference in the models to which I referred before, of war against terror, primarily rooted in the United States, there are evidentiary elements that have never arrived. These are all those related to the people detained in Guantanamo. There are people that have been processed in Spanish proceedings; there are people who should be processed, that we should have access to, and this has not been possible.

Therefore, there is a considerable deficit. An example of this is the case of Germany. There, the Supreme Court had to acquit and annul the proceeding against the person, against the only one directly charged with the attack of September 2001, due precisely to this lack of cooperation. ...

+ The Effect of the War in Iraq

I do not consider that the war in Iraq is the only cause for the increase in terrorist attacks. It is one more reason. The terrorist activity of Al Qaeda and other support groups [occurred] before and after. The truth is that [since] the war in Iraq, there has been an increase in terrorist attacks in different parts of the world, in particular in the area of the Arabian Peninsula and in Southeast Asia and, of course, in Spain.

However, I could not say that the attack in Spain is a consequence of Spain's participation or of Spanish support for the war in Iraq. It is one more element that has obviously been utilized by the terrorist organization to justify their actions; and objectively, this risk increased with the position of the Spanish government. ...

+ The Madrid Bombings

At first I thought it was Al Qaeda or support groups of Al Qaeda that had committed the attack. After certain information was given, and after receiving information on the type of explosive, I thought that it could have been the [Basque separatist] terrorist organization ETA. ...

Throughout the afternoon of the 11th, and in particular after the fact that a tape was found containing Islamic verses and taking into consideration the circumstances surrounding the vehicle, the truck where some detonators had been found, etc., I concluded more and more vehemently that this was related to international Islamic terrorism; not necessarily structures directly related to Al Qaeda, but, as I have mentioned before, it is not necessary to look in Afghanistan for what we have in any other part of the world -- in Europe, in Spain, in Morocco or in any other country. Any terrorist organization will take advantage of the opportunities given by different countries in order to magnify or to obtain a greater reaction to its actions. ...

+ The Permeability of Europe's Borders

The permeability of the borders has its advantages in some areas and its disadvantages in others. In the area of organized crime and terrorism, it is obviously a problem if we segment countries -- if we localize, to put it another way, the terrorist threat.

However, it is an international threat. Whether they attack Spain or France, it is just as serious. And even if there existed a completely impermeable border between France and Spain, if an attack is perpetrated in Spain or in France, it is just as serious. Therefore, the problem is there with or without borders. However, the ease of movement that people linked to this type of activity may have must be countered by a series of regulations that restrict this type of easy movement.

The ease of movement is for those citizens who act within the law. When it is used to act outside of the law, there has to be a response on the part of the institutions, in this case, European. ...

The improvement of judicial cooperation through the establishment of an agreement of judicial assistance in 2000 and moreover, the European order of detention, meaning the abolition of extradition that can offer a response in real time of one or two months to bring people before a competent judge, are mechanisms that, without a doubt, if followed correctly, will facilitate the prosecution of these types of acts; and in particular, in the financial area, which is still the great outstanding issue [needed] to face these organizations, the financing that is much more complex and delicate than in any other type of organization. ...

+ Cooperation with North Africa

It is absolutely imperative that the Mediterranean countries most affected, like Italy, France and Spain, establish tight links of cooperation and coordination with Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. It is absolutely essential that police coordination and support take place; it is absolutely essential to be aware of [different] languages, customs, etc.; it is vital that the policy of human rights be implemented in those countries. A more effective fight will result from this interrelation. ...

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posted jan. 25, 2005

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