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Europe 'is new base for terror'

LONDON: US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday that one of the biggest threats to US security may now come from within Europe.

Chertoff said American authorities were becoming increasingly aware of a real risk of Europe becoming a "platform for terrorists".

He said it was important to step up security checks on passengers coming from Europe to the US.

"One of the things we have become concerned about lately is the possibility of Europe becoming a platform for a threat against the US," Chertoff said.

"We have watched the rise of home-grown terrorism," he added, citing the Madrid train bombing in March 2004 and recent foiled plots in Britain and Germany.

"That suggests to us that the terrorists are increasingly looking to Europe both as a target and as a platform for terrorist attacks."

Chertoff said while Washington had no plans to suspend a visa waiver programme that allows most Europeans who travel to the US as tourists to do so without a visa, authorities would like to step up advance checks on travellers.

"We do want to elevate some of the security measures in the programme," he said, proposing an advance travel authorisation system which would require potential visitors to register online their intention to travel to America to allow authorities to clear them in advance.

Chertoff also said the absence of any attacks in the US since September 11, 2001 had created "a certain sense of complacency" which needed to be dispelled.

"When I lift my eyes and look around the world and look at what happens in Britain and Germany and Spain and Bali and Pakistan, I don't see terrorism going away, I see an Al Qaeda that's emboldened," he said.

l US Marines will train Mauritania's military in counter-insurgency tactics this month as the Islamic state straddling the Sahara confronts what diplomats see as an increased threat from Al Qaeda.

Next week's arrival of the US military instructors falls under Washington's Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership, which seeks to help African armies bolster their defences against possible Islamic militant violence.

The US Marines will train Mauritanian Camel Corps soldiers who patrol the northeast desert quadrant bordering Algeria, the Western Sahara and Mali.

The team will come from the US Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, which specialises in counter-terrorism and unconventional warfare.

The mission comes three weeks after two attacks in Mauritania - one killing four French tourists, another Mauritanian soldiers - attributed to Al Qaeda members. The killings set off alarm bells among foreign security agencies about the risk that Al Qaeda's North African branch is extending its operations into western sub-Saharan Africa.



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