Aussie spy chief: Iraq spawning terrorists

By Mark Follman
Published October 26, 2004 8:38PM (EDT)

While former CIA director George Tenet recently pronounced the Iraq war "wrong," his Australian counterpart -- who is still serving -- is now criticizing the Bush administration's policy in Iraq, and doing so in greater detail. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

"Australia's spy chief has directly linked the Iraq war to the rising ranks of global terrorists and says it could have inspired new followers of Osama bin Laden in Australia. The ASIO director-general, Dennis Richardson, also said in a speech last night that al-Qaeda had cased an airport in Australia before the September 11 attacks in the United States.

"Mr. Richardson said 'it is possible some new followers in Australia have been motivated primarily by Iraq', putting him at odds with the Federal Government's line on whether the war inflames terrorism. 'We cannot exclude the possibility of Iraq being a motivator for some people here in Australia who may want to do harm,' he said.

"It was not known 'to what extent those who have gone to fight in Iraq were already committed militant Islamists or to what extent fighting in Iraq has or will turn others, including some Iraqis, into committed militant Islamists.' But, he said 'the only reasonable assumption is that Iraq has added to the number of militant Islamists and will lead to the further development of international linkages between such individuals and groups.'"

The head of Australia's intelligence agency noted that the terrorist threat existed before the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, but reiterated that the war is rallying support for the militants' cause.

"[Richardson] stressed that Australia was a target before the the September 11 attacks. He said that a raid in Pakistan in late 2002 uncovered details of al-Qaeda casing airports, including one in Australia, before the strikes on the US. ... Mr. Richardson said Australia's close alliance with the US contributed to it being a target for terrorist attacks, but it was not the sole reason. 'The world view at the centre of al-Qaeda and groups such as Jemaah Islamiah explains why we are a target and is the key to understanding why the challenge will be with us for a long time.'...

"Mr. Richardson said the attacks in Madrid and on the Australian embassy in Jakarta would have occurred with or without the war, but Iraq had given al-Qaeda propaganda and recruitment opportunities."

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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