A New Wave of Terrorism

A New Wave of Terrorism

  • 7 April 2010

Once again, forces of terrorism have proven that they pose a grave danger at both the regional and international levels, and that they are still capable of threatening the security and stability of countries and communities despite the strategies and measures adopted to confront the menace. On March 29, 2010, two female suicide bombers blew themselves up in two of the largest metro stations in the heart of the Russian capital. These terrorist attacks killed 38 people and injured over 75 in one of the worst terrorist attacks witnessed by Moscow since February 2004, when a suicide blast targeting the metro rail claimed 39 lives and injured 100 others. Later that year, another terror attack had struck a school in Baslan town. A few days after the Moscow blasts this year three huge explosions shook the Iraqi capital Baghdad, targeting the diplomatic missions of a number of Muslim and Western countries—like Egypt, Iran, Germany and Syria—leading to the deaths of 41 people and causing injuries to about 200 others, mostly civilians. The very next day, Baghdad was rocked by five more explosions that killed 49 Iraqis and left 160 injured. Pakistan also suffered two suicide attacks on March 5, 2010, when the US consulate in Peshawar was rocked by a series of explosions that killed 11, while the second attack struck a political rally in the Swat valley claiming 41 lives.

There is no denying that these separate terrorist attacks do not have similar motivations or causes. Some analysts believe that the Moscow blasts were carried out by radical groups in north Caucasia, having links to Al-Qaeda, in response to the alleged oppressive policies of Russian authorities in Chechnya against secessionists. On the other hand, observers regard political instability in Iraq as the cause for the Baghdad blasts following recent legislative elections and the preoccupation of various political forces on maximizing their gains and in staking their claim in the formation of the new government. Terrorist operations tend to rise in such tense political circumstances and this is an issue which Iraqi leaders have been warning against for long. As for Pakistan blasts, they sadly comprise another episode in a series of ongoing confrontations between government forces and the Pakistan-Taliban movement linked to Al-Qaeda. This has been responsible for a wave of suicide operations that have led to about 3,200 deaths across the country in the past two-and-a-half years.

Despite the disparity in reasons behind these terrorist operations and their objectives, their recurrence and alleged linkage to Al-Qaeda holds many important connotations and inferences. The first inference is that terrorist organizations, with Al-Qaeda at the top, have proved that they have a high degree of flexibility and capability in withstanding crackdowns against them and in re-launching their attacks at opportune moments. These organizations go into hiding when the international campaign intensifies, but they strike back as soon as things calm down. This tactics poses an important challenge for security agencies in various countries of the world and puts them in a constant state of alert and heightened vigil.

Secondly, terrorist organizations have the ability to morph their tactics and methods. In Russia, they have been focusing their attacks on the metro rail system in order to inflict large number of civilian casualties and to destabilize the country, as has also been stated by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. Many observers consider that securing the metro rail network against terrorist attacks is nearly impossible due to the huge number of travelers commuting using it every day. In Iraq, the attacks concentrated on targeting a number of Western and Islamic embassies. This seems to be an attempt to warn countries around the world to avoid opening embassies in Iraq and to create an impression that Iraq is still an unstable country that cannot provide security, even in the most sensitive and important places. As for Pakistan, attacks have focused on targeting civilians as well as diplomatic centers like the US consulate in Peshawar. It is noteworthy that the three terrorist attacks were carried out by suicide bombers, a method that has proved effective for terrorists and is usually difficult to prevent for security agencies.

The third point relates to questions related to the effectiveness of the policies and measures adopted by the international community in fighting terrorism since the September 11 attacks. There are two different views on this issue. According to one view, the international campaign on terrorism after nine years ofthe September 11 events has scored significant successes by striking down their leadership centers, seizing their financial resources, imposing strict restrictions on freedom of movement of terrorists, and increasing security and intelligence operations between various forces of the international community. The proponents of this view believe that the problems does not pertain to the effectiveness of the measures taken to confront terrorist organizations but the tactics used by terrorist groups, which is secretive in nature and relies on sleeper cells across regions that are not necessarily known to security personnel. Thus, eliminating such elements is not easy, and so the policies and measures adopted to confront the threat are not ineffective. Many indicators show the decline in strength and spread of terrorist organizations and this is obvious from a simple comparison between number of terrorist operations between 2006 and 2007 and those having taken place in the last two years.

On the other hand, some commentators argue that terrorist organizations have been successful in striking back hard in various regions of the world from time to time. They point to the attempted blast on board a US airplane over Detroit late last year, followed by terrorist strikes in Moscow, Iraq and Pakistan. It is also said that terrorists have been able to open new fronts in countries and regions like Yemen, Somalia, North and West Africa, etc. The terror outfits also continue to maintain their stranglehold on Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. This confirms that the international campaign against terrorism has made limited progress. This viewpoint lists various reasons for the supposed shortcomings of anti-terror campaign. The most important among these is said to be an overreliance on the military and security tack in confronting this phenomenon, without attempting to understand the root cause of terrorism, such as the alleged unfair Western policies towards the Islamic world. It is averred that these policies include aggressive intervention in internal affairs of Muslim countries, Western support to Israel’s oppressive actions against Palestinians and Arabs, spread of failed states in the Muslim world that are incapable of fulfill their primary commitments to their citizens— related to political, economic, cultural aspirations. It is alleged that the West has played a role in worsening the situation in these countries, instead of helping them progress. In addition, there are several internal causes such as lack of freedom, rising unemployment, ideological radicalism, poor distribution of wealth, and increased racial and sectarian indoctrination by foreign elements.

Proponents of this view argue that the importance to security and militaristic means for confronting this phenomenon at the expense of other options has caused failure in achieving the desired objectives. This could lead to counterproductive outcomes because the use of force often causes unintended consequences and the victimization of innocents, which enrages civilians and increases their support for the radicals. Events in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan are the best examples in this regard.

Between the two opposite viewpoints, lies a middle path that acknowledges successes achieved in the fight against terrorism, as well as failures that have been manifest in recent terrorist operations. Thus, it would be important now to address the shortcomings and concentrate on comprehensive strategies in tackling this menace. Development aid and settlement of political crises should go hand-in-hand with military crackdown against terrorist organizations, in order to invalidate any supposed justification for the inhuman actions of terrorist organizations and to deny them from growing in an environment of dissensions, wars and instability.