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Fighting Terror Is Interpol Priority

October 21, 2002

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YAOUNDE, Cameroon (AP) _ Terrorism topped the agenda as top law enforcement officials from around the world gathered Monday in this Central African nation for Interpol’s annual meeting.

Some 450 senior police officials from 139 countries were attending the four-day meeting in Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital. The U.S. delegation is led by Ed Adamson, director of the Treasury and Justice departments’ joint Interpol Bureau.

The delegates are expected to focus on how to boost the international policing body’s role in a world where terrorists and criminals increasingly ignore international boundaries.

``Since Sept. 11, 2001, Interpol is reshaping and redefining itself to fight terrorism,″ said Ronald Noble, an American who is the secretary- general of the body based in Lyon, France. ``That’s our No. 1 priority.″

The organization was also expected to unveil an Internet-based system to quickly identify wanted criminals and vote on plans to boost Interpol’s annual budget by nearly 25 percent.

But the delegates’ first order of business was to induct Afghanistan and East Timor, a police official attending the closed-door meeting said. He did not want to be identified by name. Interpol now has 181 members.

Despite its size, critics say Interpol does not yet have what it needs to be truly effective _ its own police force. Even in its most basic function as a clearinghouse for wanted notices, Interpol is not always successful.

``The Sept. 11 attacks highlighted many shortcomings in the world’s preventative security system and indeed within international police cooperation institutions,″ Interpol President Jesus Espigares Mira, from Spain, said in an opening address.

In an era of high technology and rapid transit, Interpol sometimes takes months to assemble, translate and transmit wanted notices through its current electronic messaging systems and paper publications.

The Internet system to be unveiled this week will enable authorized personnel _ including some border police _ to check with just a few keystrokes whether an individual is sought, Interpol officials said.

Pictures, digital fingerprints _ and one day even DNA profiles _ will be transmitted instantaneously. Text will be automatically translated into the group’s four official languages: French, English, Spanish and Arabic. Interpol aims to have its whole membership connected by the end of 2003, Noble said.

The meeting is also expected to vote to increase Interpol’s budget by 23 percent, the first major hike since the mid-1990′s, officials said. Interpol’s roughly 350 employees have about $24.5 million at their disposal this year.

Interpol is also expanding a 24-hour rapid-response center set up in the immediate wake of Sept. 11 terror attacks, Noble said.

The center handled 18 cases linked to Sept. 11 and posted 71 wanted notices, primarily from the United States, Germany and Egypt, in the three months afterward, Interpol said.

Still, ``Osama bin Laden was the subject of an Interpol wanted notice two years before Sept. 11,″ Mira said, referring to the head of the al-Qaida terror network believed to have carried out the attacks.

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