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Tom Ridge Talks Homeland Security In Thailand

Tom Ridge Talks Homeland Security In Thailand


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- U.S. Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge said Friday (March 12) he "would not" keep his job if John Kerry becomes president, but the Department of Homeland Security would be a permanent apparatus to crush terrorism no matter who ruled America.

Concerning the explosions in Madrid which killed at least 198 people, Mr. Ridge said: "There is no specific information that I have available to me, as a member of the [Bush] administration, from which anyone could draw a conclusion with regard to the perpetrators of the terrorist acts in Spain."

Spain initially blamed the armed Basque separatist group ETA for the multiple blasts which obliterated several trains in Madrid on Thursday (March 11), but other clues indicated Islamic fighters linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, or to the war in Iraq, may have been involved.

Mr. Ridge said "more than 3,000 suspected terrorists" were currently imprisoned worldwide, thanks mostly to Washington's global outreach after September 11, and he praised his department's successes domestically and abroad.

Mr. Ridge made the remarks during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand during his two-day stay to Bangkok, mid-way through a brief swing in Asia. He arrived from Jakarta, Indonesia on Thursday (March 11) and planned to go on to South Korea.

He expressed insecurity, however, about his future as head of Homeland Security.

Asked if he and his department would survive a presidential election victory by Mr. Kerry, the Democratic Party's most likely candidate, Mr. Ridge replied with a laugh: "It would probably survive, I would not.

"I think there is a broad bipartisan consensus around the notion of having a Department of Homeland Security," he added.

"This is going to be a tough election. And appropriately, in the United States, we won't be arguing about the department, we will be arguing about money, about priorities and the like. So I'm absolutely confident the department will become a permanent -- will remain a permanent -- part of our government infrastructure.

"But when President Bush's second term comes around, he'll make it anyhow. I'm not doing politics, but you know who I'm gonna vote for," Mr. Ridge said, grinning.

Mr. Ridge reiterated his earlier criticism of suspected terrorist leader Abu Bakar Bashir's successful appeal in a Jakarta court, which reduced the white-haired Muslim cleric's jail time to 18 months, including time served.

"With regard to Abu Bakar Bashir, a public expression of our disappointment that he wasn't detained for a longer period of time was probably predictable, given our view of the role that he has played in the international terrorism community, and the role he played in the Bali bombing and elsewhere," Mr. Ridge said at the Bangkok news conference.

At least 202 people died in the October 2002 bombing of a tourist-packed nightclub on the Indonesian island of Bali.

"His [Bashir's] involvement, his engagement, is so pervasive, that as we continue to gather information about him, coupled with information that we already have...there will possibly be some opportunities even under their [Indonesia's] system of justice, to apprehend and imprison him again," Mr. Ridge said.

The U.S. also blamed Mr. Bashir for other attacks across equatorial Indonesia and insisted he was a leader of a Southeast Asian, Islamic terrorist group called Jemaah Islamiyah.

Mr. Bashir denied those charges and blamed the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency for the Bali bombing.

International sharing of intelligence information, meanwhile, has improved and resulted in thousands of arrests, Mr. Ridge said.

"Globally, thanks to new information-sharing tools and greater teamwork, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been detained in 90 countries," Mr. Ridge said.

In a warning to "terrorists" worldwide, Mr. Ridge declared: "We tell you that you ultimately will not prevail. You ultimately will perish."

Wearing an apparent hearing aid attached to his left ear, Mr. Ridge occasionally struggled to hear questions posed during the news conference and told a reporter at one point: "I'm having a very difficult time hearing you, and it may be me. The first part of your question, I missed completely."

*****

Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 25 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is www.geocities.com/glossograph/

-ENDS-


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