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Terrorism Expertise of Rohan Gunaratna Questioned

Published: Tue 24 Aug 2004 10:32 AM
Terrorism Expertise of Rohan Gunaratna Questioned
Rohan Gunaratna will take part in a week-long seminar on terrorism and counter-terrorism organised by the Religious Studies Department at Wellington's Victoria University.
Gunaratna is a self-styled expert on Islamic groups and terrorism. He is still being described as “the former principle (sic) investigator for the United Nations Terrorism Prevention branch” [Sunday Star-Times. 15 August 2004] although Australian journalists have established that no such post has ever existed.
Martin Bright, the home affairs editor of the Observer and long-time writer on Islamic terrorist groups has described Gunaratna as “the least reliable of the experts on bin Laden”.
Gunaratna’s current project to establish a data base of Asian terrorist groups has been said to blur the line between freedom of academic research and intelligence-gathering for governments.
Gunaratna tends to rely on what he claims are inside contacts within intelligence networks. By their very nature, however, no claims based of these sorts of sources can be independently tested.
To the extent that they can be investigated, there are many instances where they have been found to be questionable. For example:
Gunaratna’s claim that Hambali, said to be the commander of Jemaah Islamiah the group behind the Bali bombings, had visited Australia a dozen times was refuted by Australian Attorney-General DarylWilliams who said there was no evidence of him ever visiting Australia.
Gunaratna’s claims of an Australian connection with an alleged plot to fly planes into the British Houses of Parliament were described be ASIO as “lacking in credibility”.
In March 2003, Gunaranta claimed (without producing evidence) that Australian Gunantanamo Bay prisoner, David Hicks, was “not a member of al-Quaeda” and “never intended to attack a civilian target”. In July, after the US announced Hicks would be tried as a terrorist, again without evidence, Gunaratna alleged that Hicks had undergone “more advanced and more specialised training” with al-Quaeda. “A person does not receive that level of training unless both he and his trainers had some special plans for him”.
The British publisher of Gunaratna’s book, Inside al-Quaeda, took the extraordinary step of issuing a disclaimer as a “Publisher’s note” advising the reader to treat the book’s contents as mere “suggestions”.
In January 2003, Gunaratna told the New Zealand Herald (again without evidence) that “there are a few sympathisers and supporters of various terrorist groups in New Zealand” and claimed to have seen their fundraising leaflets. Now he alleges that there are about a dozen groups linked to terrorist support networks operated in New Zealand, fundraising, recruiting and distributing propaganda. Although this would be against New Zealand law, the latest (April 04) government report about the unit responsible for dealing with such matters, New Zealand’s Financial Intelligence Unit, reveals that they have not identified or had suspicions about any terrorist-related assets in New Zealand, and have not frozen any assets with suspected connections to the financing of terrorism.
Commentary from Dr David Small:
Before he was exposed, Gunaratna’s impact in Australia was to heighten people’s sense of fear and suspicion, particularly in relation to Islamic groups and migrant communities. He was also assisting the justifications for laws that undermined hard-won human rights and civil liberties. Now he is bringing this message to New Zealand with claims that “the terrorist threat to New Zealand is not very different to the threat to Australia”.
New Zealanders have demonstrated through our most recent terrorist experience, the Rainbow Warrior bombing, that we don’t need to be on a heightened state of alert to notice terrorists in our midst, and we don’t need special legislation to catch them.
Gunaratna is cloaking his own personal views in a veneer of objective academic expertise in order to push New Zealand further into the War on Terrorism.
New Zealanders should treat his views with scepticism, continue to be welcoming and trusting of migrant communities, and rely on our common sense about the right balance between actual risk and the value we have long placed place on human rights and civil liberties.
At the very least, Gunaratna should be asked to hand over to the Police all the evidence that he claims to have about terrorist support networks operating in New Zealand.
For further comment, phone David Small on 021-1323739. Dr Small is a human rights advocate, an academic at the University of Canterbury, and an Advisory Board member of the Action, Research and Education Network of Aotearoa

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