U.N. union seeks own probe of Algeria attack
By Betsy Pisik - NEW YORK — The U.N. Staff Union leadership decided to authorize $150,000 to underwrite its own investigation of the al Qaeda attack on the organization's Algeria headquarters, saying that it has little confidence in the official survey group appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The Staff Union, which represents some but not all of the organization's New York employees, made the decision late last week, according to a member present, days before Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, declared the United Nations a legitimate target of violence.
"The United Nations is an enemy of Islam and Muslims: It is the one which codified and legitimized the setting up of the state of Israel and its taking over of the Muslims' lands," al-Zawahri said in an audio file released on sympathetic Web sites Tuesday.
Responding to a question about the innocent people killed by al Qaeda bombings in Algeria, Iraq and Morocco, al-Zawahri responded, "We haven't killed the innocents — not in Baghdad, nor in Morocco, nor in Algeria, nor anywhere else."
He later added, "If there is any innocent who was killed in the mujahedeen's operations, then it was either an unintentional error or out of necessity."
An Algerian terrorist group aligned with al Qaeda slammed a car bomb into the U.N. compound in Algeria's capital city of Algiers on Dec. 11, killing 22 and wounding 40, one of two deadly attacks that morning.
Insurgents similarly destroyed the U.N. compound in Baghdad in August 2003, killing 17 staff members, among others, and triggering the organization's temporary withdrawal from Iraq.
Al-Zawahri, answering questions submitted online by the organization's friends and members, vowed that bin Laden is alive and well, and vowed to attack Jews both in and outside of Israel.
In Romania for the NATO Summit yesterday, the U.N.'s Mr. Ban told worried staff members that the allegations made by al-Zawahri are "baseless and false," according to officials traveling with the secretary-general.
In New York, spokeswoman Marie Okabe said Mr. Ban discussed the message with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and "dismissed" it.
"Both noted, contrary to that message, the contributions that the United Nations has made to the Muslim world," she told reporters.
Diplomats also were aghast that the United Nations, again, was singled out.
Al Qaeda figures have explicitly targeted the United Nations since at least 2002, when bin Laden called the international organization a tool of the Western powers.
The United Nations shuffled its security office in 2005, appointing the former head of Scotland Yard's counterterrorism office to oversee staff safety in the field, reinforce headquarters buildings, and adopt minimum security standards. That office's budget and size also were doubled.
Mr. Ban appointed a new team of seven law-enforcement experts and diplomats to survey staff security around the world. The panel was appointed in the wake of the Algiers bombing, but is not specifically assigned to determine why such a well-anticipated tragedy was not countered.
It was not immediately clear last night when the Staff Union's alternative investigation into the deadly bombing on the Algiers offices will commence, nor who will work on the project.
Staff Union President Stephen Kisambira refused to comment.