Outside editorial: Tearing at the terror web

This editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2001

Bravo! Bloody good! Danke Schoen! Merci!

In the three weeks since hijacked airliners were used to assault the United States, police in several European nations have captured suspected terrorists with alleged links to Osama bin Laden at least six in Spain, eight in Britain, three in Germany and a handful in France, the Netherlands and Belgium. As this international campaign against violent extremists gains momentum, such coordinated and aggressive actions are imperative and far more important than the small number of arrests might imply.

British police arrested an Algerian pilot suspected of orchestrating the flight training of those who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. German authorities detained people from Yemen and Turkey suspected of recruiting terrorists and soliciting money via the Internet. And Spanish police arrested suspects said to belong to the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, one of the 27 organizations and individuals whose assets were ordered frozen this week by the Bush administration. Investigators say the group was ready to launch suicide missions against U.S. interests in Europe.

Thwarting immediate threats, while critical, is only part of the reason these nations should be taking bows. During the raids in Spain, police found computer programs used to make phony plane tickets, as well as fake credit cards and forged passports. Such documents allow networks of potential mass murderers to slip across borders and hunker down in hotels or residential neighborhoods from Madrid to Montreal.

Montreal was the temporary home of another terrorist tied to the North African network, one caught at the Canadian border in 1999 with a truckload of explosives and plans to use them on Los Angeles International Airport. That man, Ahmed Ressam, is now spilling his guts to American investigators, giving them details about Bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan. If others arrested cooperate, the intricate international web of terror will unravel a bit more. Such seemingly small victories will someday win the long war.

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