Sunday, October 03, 2004

Seoul on Alert After al-Qaida Calls for Attacks

Here is a copy of a report by staff writer Song-wu Park at online October 2, 2004:

Seoul went on high alert for possible terrorist attacks over the weekend after a close associate of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden purportedly called for attacks on the United States and its allies, including South Korea.

The Defense Ministry on Sunday ordered the whole army, including the 2,800 troops dispatched to Iraq, to step up anti-terrorism readiness, following government measures on Saturday to enhance security measures at foreign embassies in Seoul and certain key facilities, including government offices, airports and seaports.

South Korean soldiers stationed in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil are keeping a low-key posture so as not to provoke Islamic rebels, the Defense Ministry said.

The Arabic language TV news network Al Jazeera aired Friday what it claimed was a new audiotape of bin Laden's top lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri urging ``young men of Islam'' to resist the U.S.' allies by saying, ``The interests of America, Britain, Australia, France, Norway, Poland, South Korea and Japan are everywhere.''

CNN quoted a CIA official as saying it had "high confidence'' that the tape was of al-Zawahiri, the second in command of al-Qaida.

It is not clear when the tape was made. The main purpose of the audiotape appears to be to encourage Muslims to help Palestine. "In Palestine we don't face the Jews only, but also the anti-Muslim world coalition led by America,'' al-Zawahiri said at the beginning of the statement.

In response to the audiotape, some lawmakers said the Seoul government does not need to overreact to the inclusion of South Korea on the al-Qaida list of more than 10 U.S. allies, although the government should guard against terrorist attacks.

"He didn't point to South Korea alone as a target for attacks,'' Rep. Park Jin of the opposition Grand National Party said. "We don't need to act excessively in response to such a strategy of psychological warfare. But we need to be fully ready for any terrorist attacks because it could turn into a real threat sometime later.''

A defense minister-turned lawmaker also echoed Park's remarks, saying: "It's not new for South Korea to receive such warnings on terrorism.''

Rep. Cho Seong-tae of the ruling Uri Party, who served as defense minister from 1999 to 2001, said Seoul received warnings against South Korean supertankers in July this year and even suffered the death of Kim Sun-il, an Arabic interpreter who was captured and decapitated by Islamic insurgents in Iraq in June.

"Their aim is to attack what they think are `anti-Arab' countries like the United States,'' Cho said. "We didn't need to worry about such animosity-driven attacks from Arab terrorists when I was working as defense minister. But now we have dispatched troops to Iraq, we have every reason to be on high alert.''

Following an emergency meeting of the National Security Council on Saturday, the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry ordered diplomatic missions overseas to strengthen security.

The Justice Ministry directed airport authorities to tighten immigration procedures to prevent the entry of suspected terrorists. The ministry also increased checks on illegal foreign workers in South Korea due to concerns that they might collaborate with international terrorist networks.

South Korea is relatively unfamiliar with Islamic terrorism, most of its defense capabilities being directed against the communist North Korea.

South Korea deployed 2,800 troops to Iraq last month and will add 800 more once the brigade has expanded its base in Irbil. The unit, which needs its mandate renewed by the National Assembly to stay beyond December, is the third-largest foreign force in the Middle Eastern country, after the contingents from the U.S. and Britain.


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