Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Terrorists and Gangs Hysteria

There is a lot of buzz on websites about the possible links between al-Qaeda and Central American gangs. I wrote about it myself a few weeks ago and expressed my doubts about such links.

Some of the recent speculation comes out of this story in the Brownsville Herald that a Bangladeshi national named "Islam" was picked up with a group of 13 other illegal immigrants, and one of the other border crossers was a Mara Salvatrucha gang member. Some people are now making the enormous logical leap to conclude this shows cooperation between the gangs and Islamic terrorists.

A bit of sanity was injected in this article by Carlos Mauricio Pineda Cruz, a former Salvadoran diplomat, writing in the Terrorism Monitor on the Jamestown Foundation web site. Cruz takes seriously the reports that al-Qaeda figures may have been spotted in Honduras, but notes that there are several reasons that make such an unholy alliance unlikely:

"Firstly the Maras are not a centralized organization; on the contrary they are a highly de-centralized transnational criminal network. In short they do not have the central decision-making mechanisms to establish a relationship with a sophisticated, non-indigenous organization like al-Qaeda.

Secondly the Maras do not have an anti-American agenda. ...

Thirdly the Maras are a public and widely known organization, which makes them unlikely partners for an ultra-secretive network like al-Qaeda. ...

Finally, although the U.S.-Mexico border is vulnerable to penetration – a reality underscored by the many migrants that cross it every day – this fact alone does not make it the first choice of entry to the U.S. for al-Qaeda. The very fact that the border is vulnerable to penetration means that it is subject to constant surveillance by a multitude of U.S. agencies, including the intelligence community.

As an example of how hysterical some of the speculation over this topic has become, I saw one commenter in a forum assert that, since the article by Pineda Cruz was picked up and republished on a Turkish web site, it was proof that this was part of an al-Qaeda disinformation campaign to lull the US to sleep about the threat south of its border.

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