A nuisance catches Europe off guard

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WHAT price the much-vaunted cross-border co-operation on terrorism, given the PKK's success in catching security forces off guard in 20 European cities yesterday? This was essentially the question Ankara was asking when it complained of inefficient protection measures around Turkish targets despite advance warnings of Kurdish attacks. The Turkish Foreign Minister, Hikmet Cetin, told parliament: 'It's clear that certain countries did not take the necessary protection measures.'

The short, if unofficial answer, is that Western intelligence agencies do not take the PKK terribly seriously. The Kurdish guerrillas have traditionally hit Turkish rather than local targets in Europe and are not therefore seen as posing a direct threat to European interests. Their aim is regarded as creating publicity for their cause by harassing the Turks rather than alienating Western governments. As such, they are treated state-by-state as a potential public order threat, to be dealt with by local police and internal security services.

Nevertheless, yesterday's simultaneous operations across Europe were a considerable coup for the PKK in the sense that any unusual movement of PKK operatives should have been picked up by intelligence agencies, as would any unusual pattern of communications between cells of terrorists in the various countries.

Intelligence sources said those involved in yesterday's operations were probably from local Kurdish communities. The PKK is understood to rotate its active members every few months. The intelligence designation for the PKK in Europe - until now - has been 'low intensity', that is: more of a nuisance than a terrorist threat.