East African Region Gets Serious About Counter-Terror Cooperation

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Nations in the wider East Africa region have agreed on a common plan to fight terrorism that includes intelligence sharing, streamlining of extradition procedures and the establishment of a counter-terrorism database.

A meeting in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, under the auspices of a regional grouping called the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (Igad), agreed on the plan, which covers ways to improve border monitoring and suppress financial crime.

By identifying individuals associated with terrorism, the database will enable law enforcement agencies to detect trends that might allow them to pre-empt planned attacks.

Igad's executive secretary, Attalla Bashir, said a common plan was necessary because the region was "on the front line of the war being waged by international terrorists."

Formed in 1996, Igad draws together Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Burundi, Rwanda and the Seychelles.

It aims to coordinate efforts of its members in the economic, political, humanitarian, food security and environmental fields.

Counter-terrorism efforts in the region received a major boost last week, when President Bush announced a $100 million aid package designed to fight terrorism in eastern Africa.

Addressing the U.S.-Africa business conference, Bush said the aid, to be provided over the next 15 months, will be used to improve security along the region's borders and coastlines.

It will also pay for computer databases to track suspected terrorists and provide governments with the means to cut off terrorist financing.

Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command, addressed the Igad meeting, calling terrorism "World War IV" and urging African leaders to eliminate the scourge in the interests of their countries' economic development.

"International business will simply not invest their money in an environment wrought with fear and uncertainty," Franks told the meeting.

Representatives at the Igad meeting agreed that regional states' weakness in controlling borders and financial transactions had made the area an attractive one for terrorists.

The director of the Johannesburg-based Institute for Security Studies, Jakkie Cilliers, said poverty also made the region a breeding ground for terrorists.

"Only when the [poverty] problem is dealt with will the threat be finally over," he said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in a regional East African Assembly - comprising Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania - called on the three governments to carry out joint security operations along their common borders to retrieve illegal weapons proliferating among tribal communities.

They warned that illegal firearms were fueling insecurity and facilitating acts of terrorism.

Among tribal pastoralists, rustling cattle is a traditional pastime. In the past, rustlers were armed with bows and arrows, but in recent times, illegal firearms have become more widely available and are used both by livestock raiders and those guarding against them.

There are concerns these weapons are often sold to other criminals and may end up in the hands of terrorists.

The Ugandan army has recovered at least 40,000 guns from members of the Karamajong tribe, but at least another 40,000 are believed to still be in circulation in that area.

Kenya, too, has acted against this problem by recently destroying about 20,000 illegally held weapons recovered across the country.

The East African Assembly lawmakers also called for an urgent resolution of civil conflicts in Somalia and Sudan, which they said were facilitating the movement of small arms and adding to insecurity.

East African security has been in the spotlight since the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in the Kenyan and Tanzanian capitals, which killed 224 people.

Last November, an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya's coastal town of Mombasa was bombed.

Investigators have linked all of the attacks to the al Qaeda network headed by fugitive terrorist Osama bin Laden.

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