BRUSSELS, Belgium – A top anti-terrorism official at the U.S. State Department on Thursday warned Europeans to expect more attacks such as last year’s train bombings in Madrid, saying dispersed and well-disguised terrorist networks are operating in Western countries.
Speaking at a security conference, William Pope, acting anti-terrorism coordinator at the U.S. State Department, said closer cooperation between Washington and the 25-nation European Union was the only way to counter the threat.
Pope warned that Europe remained a staging ground for terrorist cells loyal to al-Qaida, despite a crackdown after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but said the greatest threat comes from decentralized extremist groups based in countries with weak anti-terrorism policies.
He said the groups were seeking to use chemical, biological and radioactive weapons.
“We must all face the fact that we all now find ourselves at risk,” Pope said.
Pope said the European Union, the United States and other countries had been successful in fighting Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaida, but said that terrorist network still posed a threat.
“Unfortunately reality is that al-Qaida has proven itself resilient, despite our best efforts. It remains an active and dangerous opponent,” Pope said. “While less effective as an organization, al-Qaida seems to be becoming more powerful as an idea and inspiration.”
Pope said the conclusion to be drawn was “unpalatable and disturbing.”
He said Western countries “now face a future in which young persons, familiar with the West and raised in a tolerant and open society, may deliberately chose to brutally murder hundreds of their fellow citizens in furtherance of what they see as their duty toward a worldwide jihad,” or holy war.
He cited the recent slaying of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, whose last movie was critical of Islam, allegedly by a 26-year-old Muslim radical with dual Dutch-Moroccan citizenship.
Pope also cited the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, which killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,500, carried out by a radical cell operating in Spain.
The European Union’s anti-terror coordinator, Gijs de Vries, said the EU and the United States also faced continued threats from outside the borders, from countries such as Indonesia, Afghanistan and Iraq, where terrorist groups remain active.
“The threat of terrorism remains very real and serious and affects us all,” he said, calling for more sharing of information both within the European Union and with Washington and other allies.