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Ashcroft praises Switzerland's anti-terror role

US attorney general, John Ashcroft, was in Bern for talks with the Swiss justice minister, Ruth Metzler

(Keystone)

For the second time in less than a week, the United States has praised Switzerland for its pivotal role in the fight against terrorism.

US Attorney General, John Ashcroft, said the Swiss banking system in particular had been at the forefront of international efforts to stop the funding of terrorism.

His comments came at a joint press conference in Bern with the Swiss justice minister, Ruth Metzler. And they follow last week's statement from a top US treasury official, Jimmy Gurulé.

"The Swiss banking system is well known as an example to the world," Ashcroft said. "But one of the myths once held around the world was that the system was somehow incapable of acting to support law enforcement against terrorists and organised crime."

"That myth has been dispelled by the constructive conduct of the Swiss government and the Swiss banking system."

Ashcroft also stressed Switzerland's importance as an international financial centre and praised the responsible way in which it had fulfilled its role.

Frozen funds

He said the funds that had been frozen in Switzerland as part of the fight against terrorism accounted for around 30 percent of the funds frozen internationally.

"The world needs to take note of the way in which Switzerland operates to support law enforcement, while protecting the interests of the individual."

Ashcroft also confirmed that Switzerland had provided vital information that had helped lead to the arrest of the suspected al-Qaeda operative, Jose Padilla.

Padilla, a US citizen, was arrested in Chicago on May 8 after travelling from Pakistan via Zurich.

He is being held on suspicion of having been involved in the scouting of locations to detonate weapons designed to spread small amounts of radioactive or biological material.

"We think the assistance from Switzerland was very valuable," Ashcroft said. "It's not a generalised cooperation which would extend to countries which are part of the fight against terrorism.....it refers to specific operational assistance."

Ashcroft would not comment on the evidence that had led to the arrest, but he said it was clear that Padilla had been trained in explosives in Afghanistan and had done research into contamination using radiological devices.

Enhanced cooperation

He said Metzler's visit to Washington in March had started a process of "enhancing cooperation between Switzerland and the US" and that had already borne fruit.

Discussions between the two ministers also focused on how both countries could cooperate together in the future in the fight against terrorism.

One idea that had been proposed was the setting up of a task force, although Ashcroft admitted that the talks were still very much in their early stages.

He said the objective was to look at ways in which Switzerland and the United States could work together more closely.

Any potential task force could include a number of officials in the US focusing on activities in Switzerland, and vice-versa.

Last week, the Swiss federal prosecutor, Valentin Roschacher, proposed the creation of a new Anti-Terrorist Financing Task Force, in which Swiss law enforcement agents would work side by side with the US Treasury Department and the FBI.

Respecting the Geneva conventions

Both Ashcroft and Metzler stressed the importance of the need to uphold international law and the conventions governing human rights in the fight against terrorism.

Ashcroft said the purpose of the war against terror was to secure human rights, whereas the objective of terrorism was to undermine it by inducing fear and reducing freedoms.

"In our effort to secure freedom, we will not invade or undermine the rights that are important to liberty," he said.

by Jonathan Summerton


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