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Countdown to 100$ oil (12) - Al-Qaeda, oil and Asian financial centers

by Jerome a Paris Sun Aug 28th, 2005 at 11:08:48 AM EST

This diary is actually more about terrorism than about oil, as it is based on an interview in the Financial Times with one of the top authorities worldwide on terrorism, Juge Jean-Louis Bruguière, the investigative judge in charge of the special anti-terrorism team in France's Ministry of Justice. (See his strong credentials below)

We forget that the al-Qaeda organization is sharpening its strategy, more than just focusing on so-called soft targets it is looking to hit economic and financial centers. They have understood that oil is a great tool to increase anxiety and produce a damaging economic effect.

Bruguière also makes the warning that Al-Qaeda is preparing an attack on an Asian city and explains why French legal tradition has made it easier to fight terrorism within the law. More below.


Al-Qaeda `preparing to attack' Asian city (FT, 26 August) (1)
'Le sheriff' warns on globalisation of terrorism (FT, 26 August) (2)
Interview transcript: Jean-Louis Bruguière (FT, 26 August) (3)

Bruguière's (and France's) credentials

As I have explained in several diaries, France has a unique experience in dealing with terrorism that all US specialists acknowledge, having built its anti-terrorism expertise over the past 20 years when it was not yet a hot topic in the USA - but it was for us, after 3 waves of bombs in the metro:

Contrary to what many Americans concluded during Washington's dispute with Paris in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, France is the exception to general European complacency. Well before September 11, France had deployed the most robust counterterrorism regime of any Western country.

See also these diaries:

US's best weapon against terrorism: France (how the French anti-terrorism team was built)
Ten Years Ago (the story of the last major wave of bomb attacks, in 1995)
The War on Terror is lost - the French were right (Bushco switching back to law enforcement and requesting France's help)

The threat to Asia

from (1)

Al-Qaeda is preparing an attack on a big financial centre in Asia, such as Tokyo, Sydney or Singapore, to undermine investor confidence in the region, France's top terrorist investigator warned yesterday.

Jean-Louis Bruguière told the Financial Times yesterday [that would be Thursday] that several Asian countries were less prepared than the US or Europe for such an attack.

"We are somewhat neglecting the capacity or desire of the al-Qaeda organisation to destabilise the south-east Asia region," said the respected judge, who has orchestrated the arrests of hundreds of terrorist suspects in the past 20 years.

"We have several elements of information that make us think that countries in this region, especially Japan, could have been targeted," said Mr Bruguière.

The globalisation of terrorism

from (2)

FT: What is your reaction to the July 7 bombings in London?

J-L B: Unfortunately I am not very surprised, because since the Madrid attacks there has been a strong upsurge in terms of the threat to Europe.

The incontestable catalyst of this upsurge is Iraq. Since 2003 we have seen an increase in propaganda and recruitment by al-Qaeda organizations using the Iraq problem as an extremely powerful lever to justify the amplification of the jihad and the identification of Europe as a core target, which was less of a case beforehand, for tactical and strategic reasons.

The Iraqi crisis, even before the US invasion, had a real effect on the level of threat for Europe and in France, in particular.

One of the principal effects has been in terms of recruitment, both with the swing of fundamentalists into radicalism, among the second or third generation of North African immigrants even non-Islamic individuals who have been seduced by the propaganda of al-Qaeda.

There has been a noticeable rise in recruits and converts to Islamism. Such a rise has been observed across Europe, it is not just a French phenomenon. In addition, we have seen recently that people are hardening their discourse and their commitment.


FT: Where do you see the next terrorist threats coming from?

J-L B: Contrary to what has always been thought, the Chechen fighters are totally linked to al-Qaeda. We have found proof of operational links between high ranking members of al-Qaeda, and the Caucuses. This region was playing an important role of training for jihadists and still represents a serious risk in the development of non-conventional weapons. There is a serious danger of a northern arc of crisis from the Caucuses, passing by Azerbaijan, to central Asia, and leading on to the Pakistan-Afghanistan region.

Bruguière is known for his focus on the Chechen links with Al-Qaida, as a number of French Muslims were found to have fought there and that led to a number of judicial procedures. I would simply like to point out that the Chechen resistance to Russia should not be fully merged with Al-Qaida, as Putin would like us to believe. Some Chechens (led by Chamil Bassaiev) have clearly chosen that route, but the legitimate authorities (democratically elected President Mashkadov, until his assassination earlier this year) had always chosen a path of armed resistance only against the Russian troops and condemned all terrorist assassinations by their co-citizens.

But his warnings about the fact that the whole region, the soft underbelly of the former Soviet Empire, is in danger of becoming a big welcoming base for a number of Islamist activists, is spot on.

We forget that the al-Qaeda organization is sharpening its strategy, more than just focusing on so-called soft targets it is looking to hit economic and financial centers. They have understood that oil is a great tool to increase anxiety and produce a damaging economic effect.

They know the economic reality well. Any attack on a financial market, like Japan, would mechanically have an important economic impact on the confidence of investors. Other countries in this region, such as Singapore and Australia, are also potential targets.

That's what he specifically warns of - an attack on an Asian financial center, like Singapore or Tokyo. His point about oil is also significant: it's the first time I see a major anti-terrorist specialist mention it so specifically, and his focus on the psychological effects as was as the economic ones is well warranted. One could add that, in today's tight markets, any serious disruption of oil supplies by an attack could have a dramatic impact on prices.

Why can't we talk about energy more seriously, and do something about this? This is totally beyond me.

Anti-terrorism and the law

from (3)

Few countries have invested their legal system with more authority to investigate and pre-empt terrorist attacks than France. Mr Bruguière can get warrants to tap phones, search houses and lock people up for days with little more than an intelligence tip-off.

He can hold suspects for 96 hours before they are charged or see a lawyer. "Association with criminals involved in a terrorist enterprise" carries a 10-year prison sentence and encompasses everything from financing terrorists to holding a false passport.

Since 1986 specialist anti-terrorist judges, led by Mr Bruguière, have worked alongside police and intelligence teams in a special anti-terror unit. "By working more closely with the secret services the legal system is reinforced." In contrast, the UK suffers from not having a "centralised" approach to terrorism, making it difficult to know "who is the best interlocutor" he says.

Mr Bruguière says France's "connected and pro-active policy of permanent struggle" reflects its history, and the recent memory of attacks by the Algerian GIA terror group on the Paris metro in the 1990s. "Other European countries were not concerned by that, which did not allow a global response at that time."

He dismisses recent calls for the UK to adopt the French model. "The French model is not directly transferable to the UK because of the differences in judicial structure and organisation." However, he says France could be a source of ideas, such as on how to get intelligence services working more closely with law enforcement.

Because the US and UK have common law systems, he says they are often forced to seek solutions "outside the law", such as the US use of Guantánamo Bay to imprison suspected terrorists.

from (2)

J-L B: There are differences between France and the UK, both for judicial reasons in the organization of the legal systems and in the strategic conceptions of the threat. In France we have always thought, since the 1990s, that the Islamic threat was a dangerous one and that the Algerian problem was not a political, diplomatic or bi-lateral problem for France, but was the premise of a much more global threat. That was not perceived by all our partners. Even in 1999 there was little resonance.

The second factor is that in France since 1986 we have deliberately put the legal system at the center of the struggle. That is how we have developed a pro-active policy, which means giving the arm of the law the ability to apply pressure in a policy of prevention.

This means doing away with the distinctions between repression done by the judiciary and prevention as carried out by the intelligence services. The barrier no longer exists. The advantage of this is that the legal system is more credible and less contested. By working more closely with the secret services the legal system is reinforced.

Our system is much more flexible as it is civil law rather than common law. The source of the law are legal texts, not jurisprudence of previous decisions. We don't have to bow to legal precedents, as in the UK or US, which prevents their system from evolving. As a result the US and UK have been forced to seek other answers to the new threat, some of which are often outside the law.

All the debate in the common law systems will be about the admissibility of evidence. In the French system all types of evidence are admissible but they do not have the same weight. As a result, sharing intelligence information in the law enforcement area is not an insurmountable obstacle and can be a starting-point for our enquiries.

FT: Should the UK adopt the French model?

J-L B: The French model is not transferable directly to the UK because of the differences in judicial structure and organization. But the problems are the same everywhere and France could be seen as a source of ideas, for instance on how to get the intelligence services working more closely with law enforcement.

Our offence of `criminal association with a terrorist enterprise' is much stiffer than the British offence of conspiracy. It includes any activity, whether logistics or financial, that helps a terrorist activity, whether or not the group or its objective has been identified.


Every year France has disrupted terrorist threats, such as the attempt in 2000 to bomb the Christmas market in Strasbourg. We have not suffered a terrorist attack since 1996.

A lot of useful stuff in there:

  • it is possible to be tough against terrorism and yet stay within the law;

  • terrorism is going global and the War in Iraq is a major cause of that;

  • Al-Qaida is now interested in oil and financial interests and sees Asian capitals as easier targets.

Nice job, George!

Earlier "Countdown Diaries": (La Nouvelle Orléans is likely to be number 13 soon...)

Countdown to 100$ oil (11) - it's Greenspan's fault!
Countdown to 100$ oil (10) - Simmons says 300$ soon - and more
Countdown to 100$ oil (9) - I am taking bets
Countdown to 100$ oil (8) - just raw data
Countdown to 100$ oil (7) - a smart solution: the bike
Countdown to 100$ oil (6) - and the loser is ... Africa
Countdown to 100$ oil (5) - OPEC inexorably raises floor price
Countdown to 100$ oil (4) - WSJ wingnuts vs China
Countdown to 100$ oil (3) - industry is beginning to suffer
Countdown to 100$ oil (2) - the views of the elites on peak oil
Countdown to 100$ oil (1)

Good links for more info here:


Projections of GOM oil/gas projection disruption here:


Projected 76% disruption of oil production if the weather models are correct, 41% for 10-30 days, 21% for over 30 days.

They are projecting an overall loss of about 12 million bbl of oil for this storm. The daily production of GOM is about 1.5m bbl/d or so.

It gets worse than this though. From CBS marketwatch:
http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story.asp?guid=%7BF7E49D16%2D0EF9%2D4D05%2D89DF%2D6020DC6793BE%7D&am p;siteid=mktw&dist=


With the storm two days away from landfall, its course is still uncertain. The National Hurricane Center now expects the storm to make a second landfall near the major oil and gas hub at Port Fourchon, La., sometime Monday, and then continue inland to New Orleans. About one-sixth of the U.S. oil supply comes through the Port Fourchon facilities. The port, the only one in the region that handles supertankers, accounts for about 13% of U.S. oil imports. About 27% of U.S. domestic production comes through the port's pipelines. Even a minor disruption in production could send gasoline prices sharply higher.

http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story.asp?guid=%7BF7E49D16%2D0EF9%2D4D05%2D89DF%2D6020DC6793BE%7D&am p;siteid=mktw


The deepwater Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, 18 miles offshore, closed its offshore operations Saturday and said it would close onshore operations Sunday. The port is the only U.S. facility that handles supertankers.

This isn't even all of the bad news.  A large number of refineries are down in Louisiana.  I gather that parts of the SPR (Strategic Petroleum Reserve) are in there too - I am on a low-bandwidth connection right now, so it is hard for me to check facts right now.

Crossposted at www.biodieselnow.com

by ericy on Sun Aug 28th, 2005 at 01:07:39 PM EST
One of the great mistakes from the standpoint of smart public policy was to frame the response to 9/11 as a "war" frame instead of a "criminal act" frame. Wars need enemies, need armies to fight, and need places to invade.  Criminal acts are dealt with through the legal system.

The French government seems to have used the criminal act frame. The Bush administration chose to use the war frame. I don't want to go into why they chose to do this because it's just too depressing. And even then, they even rewrote the war concept by saying that this was a war unlike any others...that it defied attempts to structure war (I know that sounds rather sick, but it is the case) through the Geneva Convention and such.

Democracies that respect law can still deal with severe threats...the use of extralegal actions was so unnecessary and, ultimately, disastrous.

by gradinski chai on Sun Aug 28th, 2005 at 04:37:47 PM EST

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