MONT TREMBLANT, Que. - Terrorist groups could be joining forces with organized crime to finance new acts of terror, says Lawrence MacAulay, the Solicitor-General of Canada.
The convergence between criminal gangs and transnational terrorists is an emerging concern that will be discussed at a two-day meeting of the G8 justice ministers that opens today in this Quebec ski resort.
"It's a great concern that the two paths will meet and they will get involved in organized crime to support the terrorist activities," Mr. MacAulay told reporters in the lobby of a sealed luxury hotel where the G8 ministers responsible for domestic security are meeting for the first time since Sept. 11.
By freezing the assets and cutting funding to terrorist groups, governments have left them scrambling for money, he said.
"Around the world the funding is being cut off and they certainly want the funding, so it's a logical place to get involved," Mr. MacAulay told reporters.
"There is evidence in some parts of the world that it exists now. They are involved in some countries in the drug trade," he said.
There is no evidence yet linking Canadian criminal gangs to international terrorists, but government officials are aware of a case where the Hells Angels motorcycle gang was suspected of financing a drug sale to Europe for the benefit of a Latin American terrorist group.
"We have to make sure that instead of dealing on two paths, we have to look at the possibility that they will join forces. We are still dealing with them as two different issues," Mr. MacAulay said.
"We are going to look at this more closely," said Martin Cauchon, the Justice Minister, who noted that Canada's anti-terrorist and anti-gang laws, which entered into force this year, share a similar structure -- both criminalize participation in and the facilitation of criminal and terrorist activities.
John Ashcroft, the U.S. Attorney-General, is among those attending the meeting.
Other participants include Antonio Vitorino, the European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs; Roberto Castelli, the Italian Minister of Justice; and senior officials from the Justice and Interior ministries of France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and Russia.
Mr. MacAulay and Mr. Cauchon will meet with Mr. Ashcroft to discuss bilateral issues, including Canada's extradition treaty with the United States, as well as anti-terrorism legislation passed in Canada since Sept. 11.
The threat of chemical and biological weapons will also be a top agenda item.
"A year ago, some of us had doubts about the magnitude and type of terrorist attacks that we would be facing. I think it's fair to say that today there is no limit to [the threat] we can imagine with respect to weapons of mass destruction," said a senior Canadian official.
Controlling the use of the Internet by terrorists, child pornographers, and criminal organizations will also top the agenda.
Canada will be pushing for the G8 countries to implement a European Convention on Cyber-crime, which mandates the harmonization of laws, and increased co-operation in investigating and prosecuting cyber-crimes such as the distribution of child pornography. At the last meeting of justice ministers, Italy proposed an G8-wide database of photographs and information on victims and abusers that would allow police to crack down on child pornography networks that use computers in various countries.
"All countries have laws against child pornography. One of the problems posed internationally is the distribution across border because countries' laws stop at their borders and that requires them to seek assistance of other states," said a senior Canadian official.
But suppressing terrorist financing remains one of the most pressing and measurable international efforts since Sept. 11.
More than 150 countries have issued blocking orders on money with suspected terrorist links, according to Canadian officials, and more than US$100-million has been frozen worldwide. In Canada, the number exceeds $460,000.
Given the mobility of financing, the international moorings of terrorist groups and the affluent reach of organized crime, the three make a potentially potent mix.
It's going to require all countries to coordinate crime-fighting effort to a new degree, said Mr. Cauchon.
"We're facing brand new technology," he said. "We need a much better exchange of information."
The Tremblant talks comprise one of a number of leadup meetings to the leaders' summit June 26-27 in Kananaskis, Alta.
The G8 ministers of finance, environment, labour and energy have already held separate pre-Kananaskis meetings and G8 foreign ministers will convene in mid-June at Whistler, B.C.
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien -- the 2002 G8 president -- has placed a heavy emphasis on African development as the central theme of this year's summit.
The Group of Eight is comprised of the world's seven largest industrialized economies: Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States -- plus Russia.
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