Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | September 3, 2002, Tuesday // 00:00

Wilhelm Dietl was born in 1955. He made a name in political journalism as chief reporter of the German Quick magazine. Since then he has worked for all influential political magazines in Germany. Since 1993 he has been a part of the team of the Focus magazine. His special interests are reserved for secret services, terrorism and Middle East. Wilhelm Dietl has been invited by the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation to head one of the working groups at the anti-terrorism conference "One Year Later - New Strategies Against International Terrorism" held on September 3 in Bulgaria's capital Sofia.

Wilhelm Dietl met Milena Dinkova, editor of novinite.com and The News.

Q: How has the world changed after the September 11 attacks?

A: People have not taken terrorism seriously for the last ten years. After the fall of the Eastern block they were very much concentrated on domestic issues and on changes in Eastern Europe. They thought terrorism was a phenomenon of the 60s, 70s and 80s and it has already gone. But al-Qaeda showed very drastically that terrorism is not going to go, that it is an ongoing process. So, the common awareness has changed. And this is the major difference after September 11 attacks.

Q: What do you think made the attacks possible?

A: I think it was not so difficult to organize these attacks. If you know the infrastructure and the American way of life then you are able to do that. If you possess grand-scale criminal power as al-Qaeda did, it is easy to organize such attacks. What really happened is that the terrorists kidnapped four planes. Well in advance, their people attended special courses so that they can fly the planes. They carefully prepared themselves and finally succeeded in three of the four cases. The forth plane crashed on a deserted place because of the brave passengers there who foiled the terrorists' attempt. But maybe the plane was designated to hit a nuclear power plant.

Q: Do you think another big terrorist attack should be expected?

A: Al-Qaeda has lost some its power because of the American attacks in Afghanistan. But I don't share the opinion expressed in the review of one of the American representatives at the conference [U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria Deputy Chief of Mission Roderick Moore] that al-Qaeda has been devastated. Al-Qaeda is still very strong and its network is spread all over the world. Its people are not in Afghanistan anymore but they are in the U.S. and Europe and all over the rest of the world. They are so many "sleepers" - people who are just waiting for the day when they can attack. And I think it's likely that some more terrorist attacks will happen - on a big scale. I don't think that will happen on the anniversary date. These people don't think in terms of anniversaries. They might celebrate the death of Mohammed but they don't celebrate the first anniversary since September 11 attacks. So I don't think such attack will happen soon. In the past it took al-Qaeda three-four years to organize a new attack. It obviously has taken three years to organize another big attack after the November 1998 attacks on the U.S. Embassies. They have time enough and they are not in a hurry. But terrorists are among us.

Q: Some say that one man's terrorist is another man's revolutionary. What exactly is a terrorist?

A: Terrorist is someone who is leading a war without an army. He is trying to achieve some kind of victory for his people, in most of the cases with very limited power in terms of weapons. It is not so easy to determine. For many years in Eastern Europe Palestinians were regarded as freedom fighters but now they are largely seen as terrorists. In my opinion, many Palestinians are thought terrorists but they are not. They are still fighting for their liberation from Israeli occupation. There are a lot of different opinions on the issue but I would say that a real terrorist is someone who kills innocent people. Someone who fights the enemy's army is not a terrorist. I think only those who attack unarmed, helpless people have to be condemned.

Q: Do you think the opinion that the U.S. got what it deserved is wide-spread?

A: I think this attitude has its roots in the fact that the Muslims have been the victims of American politics in many cases. They have long thought they have been threatened by the U.S., even if we look back in the years of the Cold War. And they still think the Americans are very arrogant, that they are against Arab countries and against the Muslims as such. Actually, this is the basic attitude in the Muslim world.

Q: Is there a global conflict between Christianity and Islam?

I don't think so in global terms. But in some countries there is a conflict between Muslims and Christians although Christians are very peaceful. I have witnessed myself how conservative Muslims in Pakistan have been attacking Christian priests. The fundamentalists think Christians are the long arm of the U.S. For them Christianity is a belief of the West. So they don't reckon that there is Islam also in the West.

Q: Do you think September 11 has granted opportunity for governments to restrict their citizens' freedoms?

A: Many governments are misusing the war on terrorism. The Chinese government used it to fight the people's movement in Western China. In the West there is no restriction of the freedoms of the countries' citizens but there is violation of human rights. Look at these 600 people held at the Guatanamo base without proper accusation. And what about people arrested after the September 11 attacks - we don't know the exact number because the Americans never announced it but I think 90 percent of them are Arabs. Things like that I consider dangerous because they create more hatred. And I am sure they will have serious consequences.

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