Mexico says it has arrested 12 people on terrorism charges in the years since 9-11—but an official said none were linked to Islamist groups like al-Qaeda or were planning to strike in the US. Mexico’s Federal Institute of Information Access revealed the 12 arrests to the Associated Press in response to a request made in February seeking details of any terrorism arrests in the last seven years.
After the 9-11 attacks, President Bush pushed Mexico to increase security, saying, “We need to use our technology to make sure that we weed out those who we don’t want in our country, the terrorists, the ‘coyotes,’ the smugglers, those that prey on innocent life.”
Asked whether the 12 terrorism arrests were linked to plots against the United States, an official at Mexico’s Prosecutor General of the Republic (PGR) said none “had anything to do with that.” Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said five of those detained had links to Basque militants in Spain and the rest were involved in domestic armed militancy within Mexico. The Basques were accused of helping to finance the separatist organization ETA, and were not said to be planning attacks. The supposed ETA operatives were extradited to Spain in 2006.
Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke confirmed to AP: “There’s no indication that there’s been a direct al-Qaida presence in Mexico. But there certainly have been individuals that present security concerns.” He would not elaborate.
In a speech Sept. 10 on international terrorism threats, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the biggest threat in Mexico is the drug trade. “These enterprises may currently be criminal enterprises, but we cannot rule out the possibility in the future that they may take on a more political coloration,” he said.
Mexico also has increased immigration and visa restrictions since 9-11, especially for people from Muslim countries. Mexican authorities have arrested dozens of Iraqi Christians who fled violence in their homeland and were attemptiong to cross into Southern California through Mexico.
Mexico boosted anti-terrorism vigilance last year after “al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” issued a a call for attacks on world oil infrastructure, including in Mexico, Venezuela and Canada. (AP, El Universal, Sept. 12)