Where next?

Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Argentina: western diplomats warn that these and many other countries

You haven't heard of Takhir Yuldash. You may well do soon. The leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan operates from a secret location in Pakistan and has eluded US special forces hunting him. In May, he told villagers in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan: "Even if only one Muslim is left alive it will be a victory. We need to erase America from the face of the earth."

The bombing in Bali tells us that people like Yuldash matter. Nowhere in the world is now safe from the threat of terrorism, or impervious to the policies that may have given rise to it.

Shortly before the attack on the nightclub in Kuta, I talked to a senior British diplomat. We discussed Iraq, and then I asked him what other areas of the world he was concerned about. He gave me a compelling tour d'horizon of the next flashpoints. From Indonesia and the neighbouring Philippines to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, from central Asia to the Maghreb, from the failed states of Somalia and Sudan to Turkey, and the imploding economies of South America, you find ingredients for the next acts of terrorism.

These countries are only the start. Yet since his "axis of evil" speech, George W Bush has focused most attention on one state: Iraq. Despite the best efforts of his intelligence chiefs, he has failed to produce evidence that links Saddam with the destruction of the World Trade Center or with any subsequent attack.

While Bush and the ideologues around him prepare for war against a lone government, they have failed to see that it is non-governmental terrorist cells that pose the biggest threat. Since 11 September last year, intelligence agencies believe, there have been more than a dozen acts of terrorism linked to al-Qaeda. Some have caught the headlines (usually the ones in which the casualties have included Britons and Americans). Others have not. They all lend credence to warnings in Whitehall that the White House is failing to combat the threat and has not begun to address the root causes. According to the British, the Americans are also way behind in intelligence gathering.

The first area of concern is Saudi Arabia, birthplace of 15 of the 19 original hijackers. The country represents a terrible dilemma for the Americans and British. Whatever the corruption and mismanagement of the royal family (average per capita income has fallen by nearly two-thirds over the past two decades), any transfer of power - by democratic or other means - would put even more fundamentalist Wahhabis in charge. Kuwait already seems out of control, with two shootings of American soldiers.

The Yemeni coast was the scene of the recent attack on a French oil tanker - a mirror image of the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000. The Americans and British have to keep a very low profile in Yemen for fear of assassination or kidnap. In the early 1990s, with CIA help, Yemen became a haven for "Arab Afghans" - Muslim volunteers from various countries who used it as a base against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. Now there are said to be at least three guns per person in the country. Yemen is one of several "failed states", where weak or non-existent central government has left a perfect vacuum for networks such as al-Qaeda. Somalia and Sudan are two more examples.

The most immediate threat of a terrorist strike within Europe itself may come from the Maghreb. The French in particular are alarmed about the popularity of fundamentalists in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. They are furious with the British for what they see as a failure to crack down on Islamic clerics, many of them Algerian, operating from the Finsbury Park mosque in north London. In French diplomatic circles, they call it "Londonistan". The conspiracy theory - that Britain is showing tolerance at home to head off bombings on its own soil - is reinforced by the UK's long-standing refusal to extradite Rachid Ramda, an Algerian wanted for trial in France for bombings on the Paris Metro in 1995, which killed eight people. The Armed Islamic Group (GIA) claimed responsibility for that attack. With another terrorist cell, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, it is on the run in Algeria, but is said to be trying to regroup. Algeria's government, which banned Islamist groups after they nearly won elections in 1991, knows it can fend them off only by military means.

Morocco poses a different problem. In elections held last month and cited as an example of functioning democracy, a moderate Islamic party, the Justice and Development Party, became the third-strongest political force, with calls to ban alcohol and close down casinos, and attacks on US and Israeli policies. But it contested only half the constituencies lest it win too many seats and provoke unrest. Morocco's potential as a forward station for al-Qaeda has already been demonstrated, with an attempt to blow up US and British warships in the Straits of Gibraltar.

The nearest attack to Europe took place in April in Tunisia, at a synagogue on the island of Djerba. Eighteen people died, 13 of them German tourists. A group called the Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Sites claimed responsibility. The same name was given by the people who claimed responsibility for the bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 - attacks now seen as al-Qaeda's first terrorist successes.

The unpalatable truth for western governments is that they are relying on dictatorships or autocracies to clamp down on terrorist cells. They find themselves turning a blind eye to human rights abuses to keep fundamentalists at bay. In country after country, the more open the election, the more difficult the result.

The central Asian republics, largely forgotten during the Soviet years, are now regarded as a military forward post in the struggle to root out al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The presence of US forces, however, plays into the hands of fundamentalist groups that want to replace secular governments in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan with regimes modelled on the Taliban. The US embassy in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, has just finished constructing a bomb-proof 12-foot wall.

The previous leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is believed to have died in the Afghan town of Konduz fighting the Northern Alliance and US special forces. His replacement, Takhir Yuldash - who speaks Arabic, Persian, Uzbek and Pushtu - models his strategy on Bin Laden's.

Throughout the world, governments, with western approval, are doing whatever it takes to keep a lid on the Islamists. Putin got the nod to pursue his war on Chechen rebels. In Pakistan, where al-Qaeda is at its strongest, General Pervez Musharraf's experiment with limited democracy has backfired for the west. After this month's parliamentary elections, the first since Musharraf seized power in a coup in 1999, a coalition of Islamic parties, which campaigned against the presence of US troops in Pakistan, may hold the balance of power. This may give Musharraf a pretext to close parliament down or limit its authority.

Of all the areas of potential trouble, British diplomats are most concerned about Turkey. A country that has provided the west's staunchest ally in operations against Iraq and other enemies in the Middle East goes to the polls on 3 November with the prospect of an Islamic party taking power.

Turkey's corrupt secular elite under the elderly prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, has imploded. Last year its economy shrank by 7 per cent and this February, the IMF had to step in with a $16bn loan. The newly formed Justice and Development Party, better known by its Turkish initials AK and led by Istanbul's former mayor, is sweeping up discontented voters. AK says it wants greater tolerance of Islam, but will not reverse Turkey's long-standing close relations with the US. On that promise hang the strategic calculations of the western powers.

Even before the Bali bomb, south-east Asia had become known as the Americans' "second front" in the war on terror. More than 1,000 troops had been deployed to the southern Philippines to help take on a rebel group. But the main concern was Jamaah Islamiyah. With close links to the Kuwaiti cell of al-Qaeda, it has been behind a number of previous bomb attempts in its mission to set up an Islamic state to cover Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. In December 2001, Singapore arrested 13 of the group's members, foiling a plot to blow up US and other western embassies. In August 2002, the Singapore authorities made 21 more arrests. At least three of those arrested had been trained at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.

All the while, the peaceful growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Malaysia continues. A state on the north-east coast, Terengganu, is now run by an Islamist party: so far it is co-operating fairly smoothly with the more secular government of Mahathir Mohamed. Mahathir warned the Americans recently of the futility of seeking military solutions to terrorism. "We must," he said, "eliminate the causes, even if they are silly and unreasonable, if we want to win the hearts and minds of . . . sympathisers."

That is the nub of the problem. Since 11 September, any analysis of cause and effect has been rejected by the ideologues around Bush. Because most of the 9/11 hijackers, as well as their mastermind and their financial backers, came from wealthy backgrounds, policy-makers have dismissed a connection between terrorism and poverty, arguing that the enemy is simply Islamic fundamentalism. But what if they are wrong? What if the warlordism of Congo and Sierra Leone, the intercommunal violence of Nigeria, the land seizures and famine in Zimbabwe produce a new generation of global terrorists? And what of Latin America? In Colombia, drugs cartels have outwitted all the military might the US has thrown at them for nearly four decades. Argentina has suffered one of the worst peacetime economic collapses of any country in modern times. Its president, Eduardo Duhalde, has spoken of US "ignorance and lack of concern". Now Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, is about to go up in smoke.

Bush has maintained that the US has the capacity to fight both Iraq and al-Qaeda at the same time. "We will fight the war on terror on two fronts if need be," he said. Only two?

Additional reporting: Seamus Mirodan and Gabriele Parussini