Twenty years since the 11th of September. “Not even al-Qaeda would have expected such a daunting effect”

It was during a working lunch with Carlos Monjardino, as part of the preparation of changes to the legal regime of the Foundations, that Rui Pereira, the then Secretary of State for Internal Administration, was informed of the September 11 attacks against the Twin Towers, in Nova York.

He remembers the incredibility with which he saw the images and, even having been director of the Information and Security Service (SIS) for the previous three years, it was with surprise that he realized the scale of the attack.

Twenty years later, in an interview with the Renaissance, he highlights how that day changed history and regrets that the mistake now made by the United States in withdrawing from Afghanistan could be an incentive for the return of the terrorist threat.

What immediate impact did the attacks of September 11, 2001 have on security systems?

The realization that that threat was a new, global threat was an almost immediate realization. There had already been a history of that kind of terrorism, but never on this scale. 9/11 posed a new problem. From then on, the expressions “war on terrorism” or “the enemy’s criminal law” took on a much more effective new meaning.

Before joining the Government, he had been director of the SIS precisely in the three years prior to the attack. What kind of clues did the Western secret services have that something like 9/11 might happen?

The terrorist attacks that had taken place in Africa were already saying something new in terms of terrorism, but I would be lying if I said that I was expecting attacks on the scale of those we saw in New York. And I don’t think anyone was. Even the terrorist organization itself [Al-Qaeda] I wouldn’t expect such a daunting effect from his attack. I suppose she was surprised by the scale of the consequences.

Terrorism has definitely become a very serious problem.

Some say that the century began with 9/11. I don’t know if the century won’t bring us other news, and it has already brought the pandemic and climate change, it’s still too early for balances, but whatever happens, the attacks of 9/11 marked something new, which is the emergence of a new actor on the international scene. The transformation of terrorism into an actor on the international stage.

With implications for life, as we knew it until then.

Before 9/11, in Portugal and Europe, we were drunk with freedom, in a good way. A space of sovereign States, without borders, with a single currency, with freedom of movement according to the European liberal and democratic matrix is ​​almost a utopia.

That was suddenly called into question with 9/11. And called into question in small routines. Trips where we went from country to country without any worries, became trips with other rules. From food on planes without cutlery, to tighter magazines and taking off your shoes at airports. It seems that they are small details, but they are very expressive of a new safety culture.

A new safety culture that has undergone the adaptation of many laws.

Yes. It was understood that it was necessary, in terms of criminal law, to create more effective and severe schemes for the prevention and repression of the terrorist phenomenon. In Portugal, for example, a new anti-terrorist law was approved in 2003, based on a framework decision of the European Union approved in 2002, following the attacks in New York.

The purpose of this law was to punish terrorist crimes more severely, to predict international terrorism, to provide for financing, the punishment of preparatory acts, and also to provide for the liability of legal persons. And also procedural schemes like covert actions, and more intrusive measures.

I wanted the calendar or the fate that we are marking the 20th anniversary of 9/11 while we are watching the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan with concern. Are we not somehow returning to the source of the threat?

To leave people who have believed in the ideal of democracy and human rights to their own devices, handed over to a state in which there is no respect for these rights, is extraordinarily dangerous. I do not bode well in the short term for Afghanistan, and I join in that vast chorus of criticism of the form and timing of the withdrawal.

But I asked him about the threat. Is this new reality in Afghanistan a risk? To what extent do threat levels change?

What happened in Afghanistan will not fail to be interpreted by all those who are fond of a fundamentalist ideal with a tendency towards terrorism, as a victory. And, therefore, this alone is a huge stimulus for the resurgence of terrorist activity.

On the other hand, I wait to see if the so-called promises that have been made to Americans that the new Taliban regime will not support terrorism are promises to take seriously. I wouldn’t trust it, because everything that is in the essence of that State points to no moral restraint in the murder of infidels, of women who do not follow Islamic law, and so on.


Rui Pereira was Director of SIS and Secretary of State for Internal Administration on September 11, 2001. He later held the position of Minister of Internal Administration. He is the founder of the Security, Organized Crime and Terrorism Observatory.


Source: Renascença – Noticias by rr.sapo.pt.

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