I am increasingly pessimistic over the chances of the international community ever being able to prevail over the jihadi terrorism of the kind practised by the Al Qaeda and the various jihadi organisations of different nationalities---five of them Pakistani---allied with it in the Carols' style united front called the International Islamic Front (IIF).
To be able to prevail over a threat, one has to have a clear understanding of the threat---where from it emanates, which are the organisations posing the threat, how do they operate, who are their leaders, where from they recruit, what kind of expertise they have, how they acquired it, how they network with each other etc.
From the kind of reports, analyses and statements emanating not only from Western analysts, but also from our own in India and from the kind of questions which I am asked again and again by Indian and Western journalists who ring me up after every terrorist strike, I ger the impression that nearly a decade after jihadi terrorism assumed its present virulence, they understand very little of it.
Not one of them has cared to study in detail the evolution of the IIF ever since it was formed by bin Laden and certain jhadi terrorist leaders of Pakistan, Egypt, Uzbekistan and the Philippines in February,1998. Who are its present members? Where are they active? What are their objectives? What are their links with State-sponsors of international terrorism like Pakistan? What are their sources of funding? Which are the countries of the world where they have sleeper cells? Are there differences in the operational techniques of jihadi terrorists of Arab origin and non-Arab origin?
There has been an over-focus on Al Qaeda because the Americans have been concerned over it and the maximum number of analytical articles have come out of the US on it and very little attention has been paid to the other members of the IIF.
As a result, many of the analysts---governmental or non-governmental-- tend to get surprised by developments such as the involvement of four UK residents of Pakistani origin in the London blasts of July 7,2005. How can this happen? Are there Pakistanis in Al Qaeda? Are they known for volunteering for suicide missions? etc etc I have been flooded with questions from journalists ever since the British Police held their televised press conference on July 12 to announce their success in identifying the perpetrators of the London blasts and the British media revealed their names and background---all of them of Pakistani origin, when many were expecting them to be Arabs.
I am sick and tired of answering these questions. Of what use answering and explaining, when nobody seems or cares to understand?
My method of terrorism analysis is considerably---if not totally---different from that of many other experts of the West as well as India. Instead of clubbing everything together under the common rubric of Al Qaeda, I treat the IIF as a distinct terrorist entity to be watched, identify its individual members and its command and control,and monitor and study separately the activities of each organisation and the way they network with each other.
If one had been doing this systematically, one would have noticed that:
Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) has been co-ordinating the activities of the IIF since 2003 due to the disruption in the command and control of the Al Qaeda.
Three persons arrested by the Pakistani authorities in March,2003, in connection with the attack on USS Cole in October,2000, had told them during the interrogation that since the Western intelligence agencies were keeping a close watch on the suspected Arab members of the Al Qaeda, bin Laden had asked the LET to recruit Pakistani volunteers for suicide missions to be undertaken by the Al Qaeda and that the LET had already placed 12 Pakistani volunteers for suicide missions at the disposal of the Al Qaeda.
Barcelona in Spain, Lisbon in Portugal and Luton and Leeds in the UK have become important centres for the recruitment of volunteers for jihadi terrorism and for the collection of funds.
Apart from the LET and the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) of Pakistan has also set up a presence in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities of West Europe.
After the Madrid blasts of March,2004, the largest number of terrorist suspects detained for questioning by the Western intelligence agencies were of Moroccan and Pakistani origin. The security experts of the European Union (EU) had drawn attention to this disturbing development in a report submitted to the EU Paliament in October,2004.
Pakistani volunteers from the UK have been going to Iraq to join the Al Qaeda there headed by Abu Musab-al-Zarqawi,
In terrorism analysis, you don't get a continuous, unbroken chain of evidence. You get just bits and pieces. You painstakingly collect them, put them together and see what they imply. Many in the UK knew that it was likely to be the next target of jihadi terrorism.
They have no reasons to be surprised that the attack, when it materialised, came from people of Pakistani origin and not from Arabs. They are now puzzled as to how the terrorists managed to procure the reportedly high-grade explosives, which they had used on July 7. They must have either procured them locally or got them from outside. If they got them from outside, how did they smuggle them in ? Did they use a diplomatic bag? If so, of which country?
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-mail:
Extracts from my earlier analysis of the London blasts disseminated on July 9 (http://www.saag.org/papers15/paper1452.html)
In my assessment on the basis of indicators available till now, the London blasts seem to have been carried out by local Muslims, associated with the IIF, trained in Pakistan and motivated by the widespread anti-US anger. The London blasts were carried out not because of the UK Govt's policies towards the local Muslims, but because of its close association with the US and its uncritical support to US policies.
What we have been witnessing since 1998 is a myriad jihadi organisations, all sharing a common anti-US anger, tactically operating autonomously in the areas to which they belong and strategically co-operating with each other as members of the IIF.
Al Qaeda and the national and regional jihadi organisations, which form part of the IIF, have two types of members. Those who are earmarked for logistical tasks and those earmarked for carrying out terrorist strikes. Those earmarked for logistical tasks are repeatedly used so long as they are alive and remain uncaptured. Those earmarked for carrying out terrorist strikes are sparingly used, in order to prevent their being identified by the security agencies of the countries in which they operate. Many of them die in their very first mission as suicide bombers. Others employed on missions not involving suicide terrorism are not given another operational role for a long time after they successfully carry out their mission. One, therefore, finds that many of the jihadis participating in terrorist strikes, either on suicide missions or on missions not involving suicide, are first-time participants. This makes identification difficult.
Osama bin Laden's present role in the Al Qaeda and the IIF is confined to target-country -indication, ideological motivation and pepping up the morale. Once a target-country is indicated, it is left to organisations having a capability for clandestine operations in that country to plan and carry out the terrorist strike in that country. bin Laden and the Al Qaeda GHQ need not necessarily be aware of the details of the planning and the progress of its implementation till the strike is actually carried out.
The UK has been figuring as a target country in his messages ever since 9/11, but the responsibility for planning and executing the terrorist strikes in the UK would have been left to whoever had the capability of doing so. It is, therefore, quite likely that bin Laden and his GHQ would not have been aware of which organisation ---Al Qaeda itself or one of the members of the IIF --- carried out the London blasts and the identities of the individuals involved.