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No foothold for extremists amid Arab world turmoil: UN official

03-04-2011 14:27 BJT

WASHINGTON, March 3 (Xinhua) -- Terrorist networks such as al-Qaida are far from being able to exploit the unrest across the Middle East, a UN official has told Xinhua.

At the onset of popular uprisings that have spread like wildfire across the Arab world, many feared that Islamic extremists would try to fill the void left by fallen governments or push for the overthrow of wobbly rulers in a bid to grab power.

With all eyes now on Libya, the only terror group to step up has been the Algerian organization known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The organization said it was ready to support the protestors who are now calling for an end to the reign of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

But the group is too weak to offer any real support, and Libyans may not be particularly welcoming toward its members, said Richard Barrett, coordinator of the UN al-Qaida/Taliban Monitoring Team.

"I don't think they've got much of a foothold in Libya," he said.

Al-Qaida's senior leadership, moreover, was also slow in its response to events in Cairo that led to the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, he noted.

One reason behind terrorists' seeming inability to take advantage of the region's unrest is the immense pressure the United States and its global allies have put on extremists over the last decade since the 9/11 attacks almost 10 years ago, he said.

"It's harder for them (militants) to project their image and project their message now," Barrett said.

Some of the tapes that al-Qaida used to get out its message arrive long after the events discussed in the recordings, which indicates their opportunities to communicate are much more restricted than before, he said.

Still, the group's leaders are likely to follow events closely, he said.

Of particular concern, however, is what happens next in the region, Barrett said.

Egypt has the army running things now, but it remains unknown what will happen in countries such as Libya, where no viable political institution could fill in the power vacuum if Gaddafi is deposed. The same problem also exists in Yemen, Barrett said.

"The most vulnerable countries (to terrorist influence) are the ones that don't have any alternatives of any sort, no development of civil society, no development of political institutions and so on," Barrett said.

One potential bright spot, however, is that if more democratic reforms take hold in the region, that could poke a hole in terrorists' ideology, which thrives on the sense of powerlessness felt by many people in the Arab world, he said.

"If you took that away, clearly (extremists) would have less fertile soil to plant seeds of ideology," he said.

Editor:Yang Jie |Source: Xinhua

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