Methodical, coordinated police work does the trick

Last weekend's dramatic raid on the terrorist group Direct Action offers important insights to the fight against terrorism. Some countries try to appease terrorists by dabbling in dangerous diplomat footwork. Others threaten the terrorists with large-scale use of force.

But some terrorism experts say the most effective approach often is unspectacular detective work, combined with a spoonful or more of good luck.

``There is no easy recipe for fighting terrorism,'' says Paul Wilkinson, a terrorism expert at the University of Aberdeen. ``It takes slow, methodical, coordinated police work.''

The slow, methodical approach is old. The coordination is more recent. ``Under the new government [of Prime Minister Jacques Chirac], French police coordination is improving,'' Mr. Wilkinson says.

Police can succeed in defusing small terrorist groups that lack widespread backing. As examples, Wilkinson cites West Germany and Italy, where both the Baader Meinhof Gang and Red Brigades were broken by arrests.

After this weekend's arrests - and the confiscation of an address book that could lead to more arrests - French officials say they have all but destroyed Direct Action.

But even the most effective police work cannot stop all the violence. Where terrorists have popular support or historical roots, they persist. Experts point to the outlawed Irish Republican Army and the radical Basque homeland movement, ETA, as examples.

Police efforts to deal with foreign terrorism are often complicated by the demands of diplomacy.

Terrorists seeking the release of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah - on trial in Paris this week for alleged complicity in the murders of two diplomats - have threatened to set off bombs in Paris. Rumors are rampant that the French have negotiated a deal to acquit Mr. Abdallah.

``The police fear that their success against Direct Action will be eclipsed by concessions made to the blackmail attempts of international terrorists,'' says Edwyn Plenel, terrorism expert at the daily Le Monde.

``Behind the threat from Abdallah lies the Syrian state and the connections with the most extreme elements of the Palestinian resistance....

``This makes a police treatment alone impossible. Diplomacy enters into the picture.''

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