In the news: Paul Wilkinson

March 19, 2004

The Madrid terrorist attacks, which have so far caused 200 deaths, have sent journalists scurrying to find experts to shed light on the world of international terrorism. Prominent among them is Paul Wilkinson of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St Andrews University.

Professor Wilkinson, who has been writing on terrorism for more than 30 years, is well positioned to chart the rise of a new breed of terrorist. His publications date back to the 1970s and include Political Terrorism (1974), Terrorism and the Liberal State (1977/1986) and his prescient Aviation Terrorism and Security (1999).

In 2001, he observed: "The suicide hijackers who crashed their seized airliners into the towers of the World Trade Center caused more civilian deaths in one day than the Northern Ireland conflict caused in the past half-century."

Last July, Professor Wilkinson told the Commons foreign affairs committee that the Iraq war had been a "boost to al-Qaida's recruitment". In his submission to the committee, he took on the "neo-conservatives in Washington". "[They] are already relishing the prospect of trying out their doctrine of 'pre-emptive attack' against a new 'axis of evil' enemy, eg Iran," he said.

He also warned: "The prospect of terrorists getting access to weapons of mass destruction is not science fiction."

But after the Madrid bombings, even Professor Wilkinson found himself toeing the Spanish government's initial line that Eta was responsible. He was quoted on Thursday as saying he was not surprised Eta had targeted the railway system as it knew how it worked.

But by Saturday, following the arrest of three Moroccans, Professor Wilkinson said that this would suggest it was the work of al-Qaida. By Tuesday, he told The Sun that al-Qaida had clearly thought hard about the impact the blasts would have on the Spanish elections.

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