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US general calls for bolder action to stop 'Muslim extremism'

November 28, 2004

DOHA, Nov 27: A top US general called on Friday for bolder international action to stop the "spread of Muslim extremism", suggesting curbs were needed to prevent the Internet and other media from being used by groups like Al Qaeda.

"Why is it that people have the right to get on the Internet and spread this hatred and insanity without there being some curb, some law?" said Gen John Abizaid, the chief of the US Central Command.

"To me if we think this is some kind of freedom of speech to put on a picture of someone getting their head chopped off on the Internet and people have the right to purvey that, that's not the world I want to live in, and it just encourages this kind of behavior," he said.

"They use the media in a way that's very, very clever to develop the perception of great strength, when in fact they don't have great strength," he said.

Gen Abizaid spoke in a lengthy interview with two reporters as he jetted back here from Afghanistan, where he spent three days talking with his field commanders about the situation there.

As the commander of the 220,000 US troops in the region, Gen Abizaid is the US military leader closest to the struggle against Al Qaeda and what he says is a broader but no less virulent Salafist movement seeking to impose by force an Islamic caliphate.

"What makes this element so dangerous today I think is really two things that are new to the modern world," Gen Abizaid said.

"Number one is the speed in which information can be transmitted, and the way it can be transmitted without regard to borders. Number two is the potential ability of a movement like this to obtain weapons of mass destruction," he said.

The general said Al Qaeda and other groups have moved no closer to obtaining weapons of mass destruction, but they would surely use them if they did.

"It's a very, very dangerous problem for the entire international community, and that's why it is so important that people cooperate against it," he said.

Although Iraq has been the scene of resistance to the West, Gen Abizaid said the militants' ultimate objective is Saudi Arabia.

"That's why you see them fighting in Saudi Arabia now," he said.

"There is not doubt that Saudi Arabia is their target, but every Muslim country is their target," he said.

Gen Abizaid said most Muslims reject the Salafist movement, and Arab governments are fighting it because they recognize the threat it poses to them.

"The question is to what extent can they afford to be seen as the ally of the United States," he said.

"It's a tough problem for them domestically but it's because we haven't really forced the dialogue at an international level. And that's an important component of it, really organizing ourselves for the fight."

Among the international measures Gen Abizaid singled out as key is treating people who contribute money to the Salafist movement no differently than people who carry out beheadings, he said.

"The truth of the matter is we have to be bold in our discussion and we need to make liable the people who are financially contributing to this organization as the criminals they are," he said.

Militarily, Al Qaeda is under pressure but it is still dangerous, he said, likening it to the Bolshevism of the 1890s or fascism in the 1920s.

"They don't seek to win any military battles. As a matter of fact, in three years of battle they haven't won a single military engagement anywhere," he said.

"Yet they have created the impression that they have strength well beyond their numbers, that they are capable of striking and sowing panic in western economic markets, and western population at will." -AFP