Singapore – With security being tightened in the United States and Europe following the London bombings, the Al-Qaeda has turned its attention to Asia, warned a leading French terrorism investigator. Mr Jean-Louis Bruguiere believes that Al-Qaeda's next target could be a major financial centre in Asia – either Singapore,Tokyo or Sydney.
"Asia is a growing region and its economic significance is important because of globalisation," Mr Bruguiere, France's best-known anti-terrorism judge, told The Straits Times in an interview. He had first voiced concerns about Asia's vulnerability in a Financial Times report.
If Al-Qaeda wanted to rattle business confidence, an Asian financial hub such as Tokyo and Singapore would be a choice target for them, he added.
Mr Bruguiere also noted that many Asian countries were less prepared than the US and Europe in guarding against a terrorist attack. While he gave Singaporehigh marks for its counter-terrorism measures, the Frenchman expressed concern about Japan, which has not been exposed to a major strike by an Islamic group and does not seem to be adequately prepared for any terrorist attack.
Mr Bruguiere said it is possible that Al-Qaeda sleeper cells are already in Japan.
Many counter-terrorism experts agreed that Mr Bruguiere's warning should be taken seriously although some said a major attack was unlikely.
"Al-Qaeda's overall priority at the moment is to isolate the US as much as possible in the Middle East by putting increased pressure on its Iraq coalition partners," Australian terrorism expert Clive Williams said.
It is likely that Al-Qaeda could target Sydney to put pressure on the Australian government to withdraw its troops from Iraq, he added.
However, Ms Sidney Jones, head of the Jakarta chapter of the International Crisis Group, believes that militant groups in the region are not organised enough to launch a major attack. She pointed out that militant leaders relied on inexperienced idealists for the Australian embassy bombings in Indonesia.
"With such recruits, I doubt they can penetrate a financial centre," Ms Jones added.
Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs said that it takes all threats seriously even though it has no information of an imminent attack.
"In the light of a global terrorist threat and our own experience in the Jemaah Islamiah episode, our security agencies have taken measures over the last few years to strengthen security at our borders and iconic buildings," the ministry said in a statement.
* French expert warns of terror strike in Asia (The Straits Times, Aug 27)
* S'pore takes all threats seriously (The Straits Times, Aug 27)