Fifty nations have backed a Saudi proposal for a centre where countries could exchange data and ideas in the worldwide battle against terrorists DURING A LANDMARK conference last February in Riyadh, the stage was set for the creation of an international centre to fight terrorism. Fifty participating countries, including China, agreed in principle to a Saudi proposal for such a centre. Saudi Arabia is convinced that international efforts to combat terrorism will not be effective unless conducted within the framework of joint action and an all-inclusive strategic vision. The kingdom's vision is for the centre to develop mechanisms for the exchange of data and expertise in the fight against terrorism, and for national counter-terrorism agencies to be connected through a database that would facilitate the update and exchange of critical information. Consul-General Alaudeen Alaskary said that although terrorist attacks in the west had won the attention of the international press, Saudi Arabia had been a primary target of terrorism and its people had suffered the deadly consequences. That was why the country had been in the vanguard of efforts to combat terrorism. 'In calling for this international conference, Saudi Arabia acted on its awareness of the seriousness of terrorism and the need to fight it. That is because terrorism has become an international phenomenon that has nothing in common with any religion, society or culture,' Mr Alaskary said. In the past two years, Saudi Arabia has been shaken by 22 terrorist incidents - including explosions, armed attacks and kidnapping. These killed 90 people, including foreign nationals, and injured 507. Thirty-nine members of the security forces have been killed and 213 wounded, while 92 terrorists were killed and 17 wounded. The cost of material losses has exceeded $8 billion. 'The perpetrators of terrorism in Saudi Arabia and abroad are a minority of miscreants who claimed that their crimes are motivated by religion. This is a patently false claim because their crimes have nothing to do with the true Islamic faith. In fact, they are purveyors of a delinquent ideology that has lost its way and forsaken the tolerant teachings of Islam, feeding instead on alien ideas that have caused damage to human life and property,' Mr Alaskary said. 'No matter what pretext terrorists may use for their deeds, terrorism has no justification. Regardless of the alleged motives, Saudi Arabia condemns terrorism that destroys innocent lives everywhere,' the top Saudi diplomat in Hong Kong added. He stressed that attempts to associate terrorism with any given faith will only serve the interests of terrorists and should be rejected wholeheartedly. It was important, Mr Alaskary said, to prevent religious intolerance and to promote understanding and co-operation - founded on commonly shared values - between countries of different faiths. Moreover, the fight against terrorism must include efforts to spread a culture of tolerance and dialogue locally, regionally and internationally. It must also take into account the objectives and principles of the United Nations charter and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. 'Terrorists cannot be allowed to win by dividing the world along religious, cultural, or ethnic lines, or by forcing states to fight extremism with extremism,' Mr Alaskary said. 'At the same time, it is important to eradicate the injustices of global powers that lead to anger, resentment and frustration - catalysts for terrorism. It is important to focus on the causes of terrorism as much as with terrorists themselves.' The proposed international centre, to be established under the aegis of the UN, should facilitate inter-agency co-operation and co-ordination on national, bilateral and regional levels in efforts to counter terrorism, money laundering, arms trafficking and drug smuggling. This should be achieved through a secure database that allows rapid updating and exchange of information to track down terrorist networks and movements and exchange data on lost or forged travel documents. The centre should also facilitate the sharing of information on how to combat terrorist attacks and respond to them, particularly biological or nuclear terrorist attacks. Saudi Arabia envisages that the international centre should also serve as a venue and mechanism for the sharing of experiences and best practices, including training, and so help enhance the effectiveness of the fight against terrorism and its links to organised crime. It would facilitate the exchange of training methods, anti-terrorism techniques, organisation and technology. The centre should also help enact suitable legislation and regulations, and devise ways of enhancing law enforcement and security activity, while preserving human rights and the rule of law. Such a centre could be used to discuss ways to make educators and the media familiar with the threat posed by terrorism and extremism and the need to fight it without suppressing freedom of speech. This could help efforts to prevent terrorists from spreading messages of hatred and from inciting violence. Importantly, it could serve as a forum for international dialogue on the need for tolerance and avoid characterising religions, races, ethnic groups and cultures as terrorists, when the real issue is a small minority of violent extremists.