INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR--PAPER NO.557
In his latest message addressed to the Americam people, which was disseminated by pro-Al Qaeda web sites immediately after the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US, Osama bin Laden has warned of a long war of attrition against the US. The final objective of the war would be not just the withdrawal of the US-led forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, but a withdrawal of US support to Israel and the establishment of an independent State of Palestine with East Jerusalem in which the sacred Al Aqsa mosque is located as its capital.
2. He has cited the pro-Israel policies of successive US administrations as the principal cause for the 9/11 terrorist strikes and warned that the war thus launched would continue till the US gives up its pro-Israel policies and gives satisfaction to the Palestinians. His message is remarkably free of expressions such as jihad against the crusaders, recovery of legitimate Muslim territories etc. Just as President Barack Obama has reduced the objective of the military campaign in Afghanistan to one of preventing any more 9/11s in the US homeland mounted from the Af-Pak region, bin Laden has reduced the objective of Al Qaeda and his International Islamic Front to one of helping the Palestinians achieve an independent State and recover East Jerusalem from the control of Israel.
3. The war for such a purpose will be fought wherever possible and wherever opportunities for actions exist. It will not be confined only to the West Asian region. For him, not only the US, but any State, which supports Israel, could be a legitimate target of attacks---against its nationals and interests and against Israeli nationals in its territory.
4. It is in the light of this interpretation of his message that one has to assess India's vulnerabilities and the threats that India could face. As a country perceived by Al Qaeda and its associates in the Af-Pak region as close to Israel, India would continue to be vulnerable to terrorist strikes by Al Qaeda and its Pakistani associates as well as by our own jihadi groups, which share the perceptions of Al Qaeda. Their attacks against Indian nationals and interests or against Israeli and other pro-Israel foreign nationals in Indian territory would have two components--- a reprisal component and an attrition component.
5. Al Qaeda and sub-continental jihadi organisations have been looking for opportunities to target Israelis in Indian territory since 1991. The Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) targeted a group of young Israeli tourists in Srinagar in 1991. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who reportedly orchestrated the 9/11 strikes in the US, is reported to have told the US authorities during his interrogation that Al Qaeda wanted to target an Israeli diplomatic mission in India. For the last three or four years, there have been periodic reports of Indian and Pakistani organisations wanting to target Israeli tourists in Goa. And we had the targeted attack by Pakistani members of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) on a Jewish cultural-cum-religious centre at the Narriman House in Mumbai and its Jewish inmates in November last year. The brutality exhibited by them towards the Jewish inmates was unparalleled in the history of jihadi terrorism in the Indian territory outside J&K. Other LET terrorists also targeted other foreigners in two hotels---many of them from countries involved in the operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
6. Not only the LET terrorists, but also their associates in other jihadi organisations in Pakistan and India must have been gratified by the ease with which the LET commandoes from Pakistan managed to hoodwink the Indian security agencies, hold them at bay for nearly 60 hours and receive the kind of prolonged global live publcity the like of which no other terrorist strike has achieved in recent years.
7. Just as we allegedly covered up our nuclear failure in 1998, we have covered up our counter-terrorism failures of November,2008.It has been an inadequately investigated terrorist conspiracy. Our euphoria over catching one terrorist alive has clouded our vision.Our over-focus on his version of the conspiracy has come in the way of our probing into other angles not possibly revealed by the captured terrorist or not within his knowledge. Every clued-up terrorist organisation strictly follows the principle of restrictive security. Every participant in a terrorist operation does not know all the details relating to that operation. That is where the importance of a satisfactory reconstruction of a terrorist operation arises. Without a satisfactory reconstruction, our ability to prevent similar strikes in future would be reduced. One is not certain there has been such a reconstruction. This would have been noticed by the terrorists too just as it has been noticed by the intelligence agencies of other countries.
8. The inadequate manner in which we have handled the sequel to Mumbai-26/11 is likely to have given cause for hope to the LET and other organisations that they can again successfully launch a major strike in Indian territory----even in Mumbai. It is also likely to have given cause for concern to the intelligence agencies of other countries about our ability to thwart a repeat of 26/11 by the LET or other organisations.
9. It is this concern which is reflected in the precautionary advisories issued by the counter-terrorism authorities of the US and Israel to their citizens planning to travel to India either for business or on holiday in the coming festive weeks when some important Hindu festivals and Christmas could provide an opportunity for fresh attacks on soft targets.
10. Damaging our growing economy and shaking the confidence of foreign businessmen about the security of life and property in India have been important objectives of the sub-continental jihadi organisations. The forthcoming Commonwealth Games in India next year could provide an opportunity to the terrorists to damage India's reputation in the eyes of the world by disrupting the preparations for the Games through terrorist attacks against the proposed venues for the Games as they are getting ready. A drill for effective physical security in connection with the Games has to be in position right from now. (19-9-09)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )