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Tue 6 Sep 2011 08:20 AM

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EU anti-terror chief highlights Arab Spring risks

Uprisings gave al Qaeda huge opportunity to re-energise, access arms and ammunition

EU anti-terror chief highlights Arab Spring risks
EUs counter-terrorism chief says Arab uprisings were positive, but not without cause for concern (AFP/Getty Images)

The Arab uprisings have provided an opportunity for al
Qaeda, the EU's counter-terrorism chief said on Monday, underlining the need
for Europe to help prevent power vacuums in countries like Egypt, Tunisia and
Libya.

Gilles de Kerchove said that overall the uprisings were
positive, but not without cause for concern.

"You have not seen anyone demonstrating in the street
referring to al Qaeda or al Qaeda rhetoric," he told a news conference.
"But of course, we all agree that it has provided a huge opportunity for
al Qaeda to reenergise."

He also said there was a risk al Qaeda had secured arms and
ammunition looted in the Libyan conflict, including surface-to-air missiles
that could pose a threat to flights in the region.

"They have had the possibility to have had access to
weapons, including small arms and machine guns, or certain surface-to-air
missiles which are extremely dangerous," he said.

De Kerchove said it was important for the European Union to
assist transition in such countries.

"Another concern I have is the dismantling of the
security services in Tunisia and Egypt," he said. "You cannot have a
security vacuum so ... that's where I see an urgent need for the EU to
help," he said.

De Kerchove said more democracy, more human rights and less
corruption should remove a lot of arguments feeding terrorism. However, he
added:

"Democracy does not happen overnight so having an
efficient economy, providing jobs, all these will take time. Let's hope it
would not lead to some disappointment in which al Qaeda ... might be attractive
once again," he said.

He also said Africans who had been working in Libya,
including citizens of Nigeria and Mali and Niger, might be forced to head
elsewhere. "That may destabilise poor countries," he said.

De Kerchove said the core of al Qaeda had been significantly
weakened with the killing of Osama bin Laden in May and of its second in
command and other key leaders in Afghanistan in Pakistan.

He said this meant it was not likely to be able to mount
sophisticated attacks like those on Sept. 11, but small-scale
"opportunistic" actions were possible.

"We know from intelligence that they are in financial
trouble. They don't have the same means as before," he said.

"Internally we are much better equipped today than we
were 10 years ago. That does not mean we will prevent all the plots, all the
attacks, but we'll try to be more efficient in preventing, in investigating and
prosecuting terrorism and in minimising the consequence of the terrorist
attack," he said.