GLOBAL JIHADI TERRORISM---THREATS & VULNERABILITIES
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR---PAPER NO. 357
(Article written for the inaugural issue (January-March,2008) of the newly-launched quarterly "India & Global Affairs" (IGA). An edited version of this has been carried by it under the title "The Jihad Against Terrorism" )
The threat from Al Qaeda is expanding----geographically and operationally. Despite the losses in manpower, sanctuaries and capabilities suffered by Al Qaeda and the member-organisations of the International Islamic Front (IIF) formed by Osama bin Laden in1998, they have been able to keep up their campaign of jihadi terrorism. Continuing flow of angry Muslim youth to these organizations is mainly responsible for the undamaged resilience of Al Qaeda and the IIF. Many of the young Muslims, who are supporting the operations of Al Qaeda, do not necessarily support its cause and objectives. And yet, they volunteer themselves for joining its operations, firstly, because of their anger over the way the so-called war against international terrorism is being waged and, secondly, because of their belief that in the absence of the willingness of any Islamic State to stand up to the US, only non-State actors such as Al Qaeda and the IIF are able to do so. They ,therefore, deserve the support of the community even if the community does not agree with their objectives and logic. So the Muslim youth think.
2.Pakistani jihadi terrorist organizations, which are members of Al Qaeda-led IIF, such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) have been active in the Indian territory. First they infiltrated into Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and subsequently spread to other parts of India. They have been operating with the co-operation of Indian Muslim organizations such as the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). While the majority of their members operating in the Indian territory continue to be Pakistanis, since 2003 one has been seeing a small number of Indian Muslims from India as well as the Indian Muslim diaspora abroad gravitating towards them and helping them in their operations. Al Qaeda, which is exclusively an Arab organization, is not yet active in India, but its Pakistani associates are. Since the visit of President George Bush to India in March 2006, Al Qaeda and bin Laden have been projecting their global jihad as directed against what they describe as the anti-Islam conspiracy of the Christians, the Jewish people and the Hindus. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM), who allegedly co-ordinated the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US from his Pakistani hide-out, is reported to have told US investigators during his interrogation that Al Qaeda had planned to attack the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, but could not carry out its plan. In view of India’s close relations with Israel and developing strategic relationship with the US, it is quite on the cards that Al Qaeda might try to mount a strike against US and/or Israeli nationals and interests in Indian territory----either by itself or through its Pakistani surrogates.
3.Jihadi terrorism in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is undergoing a disquieting metamorphosis. More and more individual Muslims are taking to jihad and suicide terrorism out of their own volition. They were not made into suicide terrorists, with offers of money or women or a place in heaven by their religious leaders. One has been seeing this not only in Afghanistan, but also in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. Traditional pan-Islamic jihadi organisations allied with Al Qaeda in its IIF such as the Pakistan-based Neo Taliban of Afghanistan, the various brands of Taliban of the tribal areas of Pakistan, the LET, the HUM, the HUJI, the JEM, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) and Gulbuddin Heckmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami (HEI) have been claiming credit for the acts of terrorism of these citizen jihadis and trying to give an impression as if all that has been happening in the areas on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has been orchestrated by them.
4. It is true that these organisations continue to play an active role in the further radicalisation of the people of these areas and in egging them on to join the on-going jihad. At the same time, an increasing number of incidents being reported from these areas is the result of individual jihadi initiatives by persons unconnected with any of the known organisations. New leaders, new cadres, new groups and new mullas are coming up and taking to jihadi terrorism.
5.It is said that many angry Muslims no longer flock to the old
organisations to volunteer their services for suicide terrorism. Instead, they rush to the nearest Internet Cafe to learn how to be a suicide bomber, gang up with a small number of like-minded persons, pool their savings, buy material which could be converted into explosives and embark on their suicide missions.
6. For these Made-in-the-Internet suicide bombers, the cyber world has become a virtual Ummah and everyone of them looks upon himself as a bin Laden or as an Amir fighting for the cause of his religion. Concern over this development has been openly expressed even by Maulana Masood Azhar, the Amir of the JEM of Pakistan, in a recent article in "Al Qalam", a publication of the JEM. He said: "Now, there are hundreds of jihadi outfits and hundreds of Amirs. Most of these Amirs are computer operators, who have become jihadis by watching CDs of jihad. They have received jihadi training through websites. They think that via the Internet, they have become Amirs. If they come across a gullible youth, they tie a bomb around his body and send him to jihadi battlefields. Some of the jihadis are in the business of drugs, human smuggling and kidnapping for ransom. Jihad has become everybody's business. Now, it is difficult to control these (Made-in-the-Internet) jihadis." Fortunately, India has not yet faced this problem of citizen jihadis, but our intelligence agencies should be alert to this virus spreading to India and our political leadership and civil society should avoid any aggravation of anger among Muslim youth, which gives rise to this phenomenon.
7.One of the important lessons of 9/11 was the need to anticipate and prepare oneself to prevent other similar unconventional scenarios of a catastrophic potential and, if prevention fails, to have in place a capability for coping with the resulting situation. Amongst such likely scenarios of catastrophic potential increasingly receiving attention since 9/11 are those relating to maritime terrorism, terrorist threats to energy security, terrorism involving the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) material and terrorist threats to critical information infrastructure. Strategic counter-terrorism refers to the drill and the capabilities to be put in place in order to be able to prevent such scenarios and to cope with them if they do materialise despite the preventive measures.
8. Strategic threat analysis has undergone a significant change since 9/11. Before 9/11, analysis and assessment of threat perceptions were based on actual intelligence or information available with the intelligence and security agencies. 9/11 has brought home to policy-makers the difficulties faced by intelligence agencies, however well-endowed they may be, in penetrating terrorist organisations to find out details of their thinking and planning. This realisation has underlined the importance of analysts serving policy-makers constantly
identifying national security vulnerabilities, which might attract the attention of terrorists, and suggesting options and actions to deny opportunities for terrorist strikes to the terrorists. Vulnerability analysis has now become as important as threat analysis.
9.The 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US and the precision and the evil ingenuity with which they were planned and executed created a wave of alarm about the likelihood of similar strikes at coastal and maritime targets. Interrogation of Al Qaeda operatives arrested since 9/11 have brought out that Al Qaeda has been planning a major maritime terrorist operation in order to damage global economy.Post-9/11, scenario-building exercises have invariably included scenarios involving possible catastrophic acts of maritime terrorism. Four of these possible scenarios are or should be of major concern to our national security managers:
First, terrorists hijacking a huge oil or gas tanker and exploding it in mid-sea or in a major port in order to cause huge human, material and environmental damage.
Second, terrorists hijacking an oil or gas tanker or a bulk-carrier and exploding it or scuttling it in maritime choke-points such as the Malacca Strait in order to cause a major disruption of energy supplies and global trade.
Three, terrorists smuggling weapon of mass destruction material such as radiological waste or lethal chemicals or even biological weapons in a container and having it exploded through a cellular phone as soon as the vessel carrying the container reaches a major port.
Four, sea-borne terrorists attacking a nuclear establishment or an oil refinery or off-shore oil platforms.
10. Regional and international co-operation to enforce maritime security has not only prevented any catastrophic act of maritime terrorism so far, but has also helped in bringing trans-national piracy in the South-East Asian region under control. The number of major attacks by pirates in the South-East Asian region declined from a high of 70 in 2001 to 28 in 2003, 18 in 2005, and 10 in 2006.In the second quarter of 2007, no major pirate attacks were reported from this region. The damage in men and equipment suffered by pirate gangs during the Tsunami of December 2004 did contribute to some extent to this fall, but increased maritime security co-operation with measures such as
co-ordinated patrolling of the Malacca Strait by Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia played an important role in bringing about this decline. India has also been playing a discreet, but significant role in contributing to a strengthening of maritime security without giving rise to fears of any ulterior strategic motives.
11.Till last year, the focus of India’s maritime counter-terrorism policy was mainly on the seas to the East of India----particularly on the Malacca Strait despite the fact that not a drop of our oil supplies passes through it. The security of the Malacca Strait is important for the energy security of China and Japan, but not for India’s energy security. For the security of our oil supplies, the seas to the West of India are more important than those to the East. Since the beginning of this year, this focus has been sought to be corrected with more attention to the West than in the past. The fact that effective physical security and naval patrolling have prevented thus far any major act of maritime terrorism does not mean that Al Qaeda and the IIF have given up their plans to target shipping, coastal installations and the maritime choke-points. They continue to pay attention to these targets and India has to be careful, inter alia, about the threat of an act of maritime terrorism mounted against it or against US ships in Indian waters. The Maldives, which has many uninhabited islands, could provide a launching base for such an attack.
12. Threats to energy security from jihadi terrorism would come under the category of mass economic damage or mass panic terrorism. Actual as well as apprehended terrorist strikes against energy supplies could cause damage to the world economy through serious disruption of supplies and panic rise in oil and gas prices. Amongst possible scenarios of terrorist threats to energy security are:
Terrorists capturing power in a major oil-producing country and using oil as a jihadist weapon. The two countries most vulnerable to this threat are Iraq, if Al Qaeda ultimately prevails over the US troops there, and Saudi Arabia, where Al Qaeda has been quite active.
Terrorists attacking oil-production facilities even if they are not able to capture power.
Terrorist attacks on pipelines and tankers.
13. Initially, Al Qaeda was against attacking the oil production capabilities of Islamic countries since it looked upon oil as an Allah-given asset for the Muslims, which should be kept available for the Muslims of the Ummah. The focus of its operation was, therefore, on the supply network through pipelines and
tankers. A change of this policy was evident in a statement attributed to bin Laden, which was disseminated in December,2004. He said in that statement: "One of the main causes for our enemies' gaining hegemony over our country is their stealing our oil; therefore, you should make every effort in your power to stop the greatest theft in history of the
natural resources of both present and future generations, which is being carried out through collaboration between foreigners and [native] agents. . . . Focus your operations on it [oil production], especially in Iraq and the Gulf area, since this [lack of oil] will cause them to die off [on their own]." This call for attacks on oil production facilities has since been repeated by Ayman al- Zawahiri, bin Laden’s No.2 in Al Qaeda.
14.The likely impact of pan-Islamic jihadi terrorism on the global economy received considerable attention at the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security held at Madrid from March 8 to 11,2005, which I too attended . The prevailing view among the experts, who participated, was that for damaging the economy of their adversaries, the focus of Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorist organizations would continue to be on maritime trade, energy security, the information network, tourism and road and rail transport. Of these, while the first three are hard targets since they are well protected, tourism and transport would continue to be soft targets.
15. The threat perceptions relating to energy security that emerged from the discussions at Madrid were as follows:
· Threats to pipelines and oil tankers ----Medium to high.
· Threats to production and storage facilities---Low to medium.
16.These perceptions were based on the presumption that it is easier to provide effective physical security to the production and storage facilities than to pipelines and oil tankers. An important point stressed was the need for a thorough re-examination of the present concepts and assumptions underlying the strategy relating to strategic reserves of energy. It was pointed out that the present policy initiatives in this regard were based on perceptions of conventional threats to energy supplies from State actors. It was felt that the present policy framework had not paid adequate attention to the impact on energy supplies due to threats from non-State actors.
17. There is very little India can do to prevent terrorist attacks on the oil production and distribution facilities of other countries. What our Strategic Counter-Terrorism policy should provide for is contingency planning to deal with an energy crisis should the terrorists succeed in capturing power in countries such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia and if they are able to seriously disrupt energy supplies to other countries, including India. The contingency plans should provide for a diversification of our sources of supply in order to reduce too much dependence on a single source and the building-up of a Strategic Energy Reserve. China, which did not have a strategic reserve before 9/11, has already started building up such a reserve at four different locations in the country, of which one has already been constructed. Its objective reportedly is to build up a strategic reserve to meet 35 days' requirements by 2008 and 90 days' requirements by 2020.
18. The strengthening of physical security measures for the protection of our own oil and gas production and distribution facilities against attacks by indigenous terrorist groups either on their own or at the instigation of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has to be given priority. In the past, organisations such as the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) had targeted our oil production and distribution facilities. The ISI had asked the Babbar Khalsa in the early 1990s to target the Bombay off-shore oil platform. Even the Pakistani members of the IIF could pose a threat to our energy-related facilities.
19.Concerns over the likelihood of jihadi terrorists using WMD material for their acts of terrorism could be traced to the threats held out by the Chechen terrorists in 1995 to seize and blow up a Russian nuclear power station if the Russian troops did not withdraw from Chechnya. Subsequently, in two interviews given
by him to American journalists after he had shifted to Afghanistan from the Sudan in 1996, Osama bin Laden spoke of the religious right and obligation of the Muslims to acquire WMD and use them, if necessary, to protect their religion.
20. Documentary and other evidence collected by the US forces in Afghanistan after they had driven out the Taliban and Al Qaeda from there in 2001-02 reportedly showed that Al Qaeda had set up a special wing headed by one Abu Khabab to undertake research and development in WMD. They also recovered video recordings of experiments with chemicals carried out on dogs. On the basis of the evidence collected by their forces, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had also asked the Pakistani authorities to detain two retired nuclear scientists---Sultan Bashiruddin Mohammad and Abdul Majid--- on suspicion of their having had contacts with bin Laden, while he was living in Kandahar under the protection of the Taliban. Sultan Bashiruddin, who was educated in Canada, was the first head of the Kahuta uranium enrichment project before he was replaced by A.Q.Khan, the so-called father of Pakistan's atomic bomb.
21. During their interrogation by the US and Pakistani officials, the two retired scientists reportedly admitted having visited Kandahar and met bin Laden, but insisted that their visit was mainly to seek his co-operation and assistance in a project for humanitarian assistance to poor Afghans, which they had
started. They denied having had any discussions with bin Laden on the research and development of WMD. Since no incriminatory evidence of involvement in helping Al Qaeda in developing a capability for WMD terrorism could be found against them, they were released, but restrictions were imposed on their travel and the bank accounts of the humanitarian relief organisation founded by them were frozen under the UN Security Council Resolution No.1373. The US also seems to be having concerns, not yet openly expressed, that A.Q.Khan's proliferation activities might not have been confined to State actors only such as Iran, Libya and North Korea.
22. There seems to be a convergence of threat perceptions between American and Russian counter-terrorism experts that of all terrorist organisations in the world, Al Qaeda and the Chechens definitely have the intention and the required ruthlessness to acquire and use WMD---the Al Qaeda against the US nationals and interests in the US homeland and the Chechens against Russian nationals and interests in Russia. The Pakistani organisations allied with Al Qaeda in the IIF project Pakistan's atomic bomb and nuclear technology as belonging to the Ummah as a whole. Since the LET has reportedly sympathisers in Pakistan's nuclear and missile scientists' community, the dangers of nuclear technology one day leaking out to organisations such as Al Qaeda through pro-LET scientists should be a matter of serious concern to the international community.
23.At the international summit on Terrorism, Democracy and Security held at Madrid from March 8 to 11,2005, the foremost concern in the minds of the participants was the likelihood of an act of catastrophic terrorism involving the use of WMD. This concern figured repeatedly--in the discussions of the Working Groups on March 8, in the panel discussions on March 9 and 10, in the keynote address of Mr.Kofi Annan, the then UN Secretary-General, to the plenary on March 10 and in a final document called the Madrid Agenda issued on March 11 on the basis of the recommendations emanating from the summit.
24. During a panel discussion on March 10,2005, on "Stopping the Spread of WMDs" , Mr. Rolf Ekeus, former Head of the UN Security Council Observer Mission (UNSCOM),who was then the Chairman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said that of the four types of WMD (nuclear, biological,
chemical, radiological) chemical and radiological weapons were accessible to terrorists, with chemical weapons posing the greatest threat. Because terrorists were now prepared to die in the attacks, radiological weapons now posed a far greater risk than in the past. The science behind BW was readily accessible, but the difficulty was in its dispersal.
25.Retired Lt.-Gen. Eugene Habiger of the US Air Force (USAF) described the risk of terrorists using WMD as severe, and added that this threat could not be averted. It was not a question of if, but when, there would be a terrorist WMD attack.
26.Mr.John Colston, then NATO´s Assistant Secretary-General for Defence Planning and Operations, said that the events of 9/11 in the U.S. and 3/11 in Madrid showed that terrorists did not shrink from attacks that would result in mass casualties. “Even if we assessed the risk of terrorist WMD use as low, we would still have to accept that the implications of such an attack were great. This meant that the threat had to be taken very seriously. To avert it required action in four key areas: policy, good intelligence, plans, and the execution of plans.”
27. Any counter-terrorism strategy to deal with WMD-related terrorism should provide for effective physical security measures and contingency planning to meet each of the possible scenarios. The contingency planning has to be scientists-driven since our civilian and other agencies may not have the required
expertise in this matter. The leadership role in WMD counter-terrorism has to be that of the scientists, with the civilian agencies actively assisting them.
28.Cyber warfare essentially refers to the techniques of massive disruptions in the economy and the critical infrastructure of the adversary and denying to the adversary the ability to effectively use the Internet for operational purposes, such as waging a conventional or unconventional warfare. As the world,
its economy and infrastructure become more and more Internet dependent and driven, they become more and more vulnerable to catastrophic acts of mass disruption not only by States and non-State actors such as terrorists, trans-national crime syndicates etc, but also by lone-wolf cyber warriors, working either independently, or in tandem with other lone-wolf warriors or at the instance of States or non-State actors. Cyber warfare provides the means of conducting covert actions such as sabotage, subversion, mass disruption etc without having to physically cross borders or travel.
29. While many States are believed to be acquiring a capability for waging a cyber warfare, evidence is still lacking as to whether the terrorist organisations too have been doing so. The terrorists have definitely acquired a capability for disfiguring the web sites of their adversaries. There have been innumerable instances of terrorists doing so. Are they also trying to acquire a capability for mass disruption operations through the Internet against economic and other critical infrastructure? The evidence regarding this is still incomplete and weak.
30. Much has been written and discussed on the dangers of cyber warfare by terrorists, involving mass disruption covert actions against their adversary States. The debate on this subject is based more on perceptions of vulnerabilities than on those of real threats. However, intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies cannot afford to overlook this possibility while developing their capabilities in the field of net-centric counter-terrorism.
31. Since 9/11, the jihadi terrorists have been increasingly using the cyber space for some of their activities such as propagation of their cause, recruitment of volunteers, collection of funds, imparting training, secret communications and data-mining. As Bruce Hoffmann, a well-known US counter-terrorism expert, remarked in a Congressional testimony, cyber space has become the new sanctuary of the terrorists practising new terrorism. One can bomb out real sanctuaries on land, but how to remove virtual sanctuaries in cyber space?
32.The remarkable manner in which they have built up their cyber capabilities speak of the availability to them of a fairly large reservoir of information technology (IT) proficient volunteers who are prepared to place their services at their disposal for operational purposes.
33. While their increasing web presence has enabled the jihadi terrorists and their objective allies in the community of free-lance jihadis and lone-wolf cyber activists to promote and strengthen feelings of Islamic solidarity and to give a push to the trend towards the monolithisation of the community, though
this objective is still far away, its actual contribution to the success of specific acts of terrorism is difficult to quantify. However, their ability to communicate with each other through the Internet without their planned operations being detected by the intelligence agencies has definitely been an important factor in some of their successful terrorist strikes.
34. Neither prevention nor pre-emption is possible in cyber-space. Only effective countering can deny the terrorists the advantages presently enjoyed by them. Countering their innumerable web sites by suppressing them would be counter-productive. The web sites run by the jihadi organisations and their associates are a valuable source of open information regarding the terrorists. There would be no point in suppressing them. What needs to be suppressed are those pages or sections of their web sites, which disseminate information about how to commit an act of terrorism. An effective counter to their use of the web for propaganda and PSYWAR purposes is not by suppressing them, but by the State developing better means of dissemination of information and a better PSYWAR capability in order to discredit the terrorist organisations and wean
their followers away from them.
35. The most important component of net-centric counter-terrorism is the capability to monitor/intercept their communications through the Internet, to break their codes and take timely action on the intelligence thus collected. Very few countries in the world presently have the human, financial and technical resources required for this. It would be very difficult to undertake this task through national capabilities alone. While there has been an increase in international co-operation by way of intelligence-sharing, there is very little co-operation by way of technology-sharing. (7-10-07)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, and former member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Govt. of India )