US Helps East Africa Develop Counter Terror Techniques

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - The movement of people through Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania will soon be made more secure with the introduction of measures such as fingerprinting and photography, as part of a U.S.-sponsored effort to combat terrorism in East Africa.

Regional security officials meeting in Uganda agreed on a range of techniques to keep tabs on people's movements and to enhance inter-border communication.

Uganda's minister for internal affairs, Ruhankana Rugunda said fingerprinting is increasingly being used as a reliable method of keeping track of people.

"There is no cause for disagreement between any countries in these discussions [about the use of biometric techniques]," he said.

The meeting of a body called the East Africa Counter Terrorism Initiative (EACTI) was sponsored by the U.S. State Department's counterterrorism office.

"The ability of most African states to effectively participate in the campaign against terrorism is getting stronger with U.S. help," said the office's associate coordinator for Africa, Karl Wycoff.

The $100 million EACTI, announced by President Bush last June, aims to support joint U.S.-East Africa military training to enhance border and coastal security, to improve aviation security, and to strengthen control over the movement of people and goods across borders.

East Africa has suffered significant terrorist attacks and scares since August 1998, when al Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

According to the State Department's newly released global terrorism report for 2003, the U.S. believes the greater eastern Africa region - which also includes Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea - is the part of the continent which poses the most serious threat to U.S. interests, due to the presence of active al Qaeda elements.

The report said regional government, in general, had been "very supportive" of the U.S.-led anti-terrorism drive.

For instance, Kenya and Sudan were among just five African countries to have signed and ratified all 12 international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism. The others were Botswana, Ghana, and Mali.

The U.S. also commended Uganda for its efforts. In 2002, the administration passed anti-terror legislation, which imposes a mandatory death penalty for terrorists and a potential death penalty for sponsors and supporters.

New anti-money laundering legislation is due to go before parliament soon for adoption this year.

The State Department identified the Somali-based al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI) as the group posing the greatest terrorism risk in Africa.

The AIAI was formed in the early 1990s with a goal of creating an Islamic state in Somalia. In recent years, the report said, the group had become highly factionalized, and its membership was difficult to define.

"Some elements of AIAI continue to pose a regional domestic threat. Other factions may be targeting Western interests in the region, while still other elements are concerned with humanitarian issues," the report said.

"At least one faction is sympathetic to al Qaeda and has provided assistance to its members," it said.

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