The new security environment
The threat of terrorism by AlQaeda and its associate groups willpersist throughout 2004. After the AlQaeda attack on America’s iconic landmarkson 9/11 a state of war has prevailed between the West and terrorist groups,with AlQaeda and its associates periodically striking targets of the US, itsallies and friends. The pre 9/11 AlQaeda group which conducted an average ofone attack every two years, has morphed into a movement in which AlQaeda andits associate groups mount an average of an attack every three months. AlQaedais now developing an ideological role, mostly through the Internet. Whilewestern governments devote their resources to fighting AlQaeda the centre ofgravity of the movement has shifted to its associate groups which pose varyinglevels of threat in different regions.
To compensate for the loss of its training and operational bases inAfghanistan AlQaeda established new camps in Yemen, Southern Philippines,Indian Kashmir, Pankishi Valley in Georgia and Chechnya. AlQaeda operatives andexperts have dispersed from Afghanistan and Pakistan to lawless zones in Asia,Horn of Africa, Middle East and the Caucusus, thereby extending the boundariesof worldwide terrorism. Depending on the ability of the United States to managethe unsettled situation in Iraq and the willingness of Muslim governments tocooperate with the West the dispersed threat could either spiral up or down.
The security environment became more complicated with the UnitedStates’ unilateral intervention in Iraq, a watershed event that has not helpedreduce the threat of terrorism. In contrast to the highly successful US-ledglobal coalition response that gravely weakened AlQaeda after 9/11, USintervention in Iraq has facilitated the growth of existing and emergence ofnew Islamist political parties and terrorist groups in the Muslim world. Theresurgence of the Taliban, Hezbe-Islami and AlQaeda in Afghanistan and thepost-invasion alliance between secular Saddam loyalists and Al Ansar Al Islami,an AlQaeda associate group in Iraq, spells continued violence for 2004. FurtherIran is likely to develop into a haven for AlQaeda unless the westerngovernments help to strengthen the hand of the moderates in Tehran by engagingwith Iran.
In both Iraq’s immediate neighbourhood and beyond with the rise ofMuslim public anger against the US and its allies, Islamist groups are now ableto exercise greater influence among the Muslim communities. AlQaeda and itsassociate groups are aggressively harnessing the resentment among the Muslimsliving in the west and in Muslim countries.
As the memory of 9/11 recedes the west is likely to witness anothermass casualty attack. The suicide bombings in Istanbul last November is a grimreminder that despite security measures the terrorists can strike. AlQaeda’s hallmarktargeting of symbolic installations in the west is becoming more likely. Asterrorists adapt to the post 9/11 security environment they are likely toidentify the loopholes and gaps in western defences and breach its security andcounter measures. The frequent attacks in the Middle East, Horn of Africa,Caucusus and Asia will continue but for greater impact they are likely to killand injure more people. The terrorists will continue to attack economic,religious and population targets with coordinated suicide operations. Thesustained global action against AlQaeda will further force the mother group tothe background and push its associates to the foreground, making it moredifficult for intelligence and enforcement agencies to monitor and respond to abigger number of Islamist groups.
Likely developments in 2004
Although terrorist capabilities to attack North America and WesternEurope have suffered the terrorist intention to mount an attack in the west hasnot diminished.As there has not been an attack in the west since 9/11complacency is gradually setting in. As a result the opportunity for AlQaedaand its associate cells to mount a mass casualty attack in the west is steadilygrowing. The bulk of the terrorist attacks will be conducted by Islamistterrorist groups from Asia, Middle East, Horn of Africa and the Caucasus. Mostof the attacks will be conducted in Muslim countries but against high profile,symbolic and strategic targets of the US, its allies and friends. Because ofthe hardening of American targets the threat has shifted to allies and friendsof the US, eg the British in Turkey.
The threat is more to soft targets, ie.unprotected or poorlydefended installations. Because of government hardening of military anddiplomatic targets the terrorists will shift their attacks to economic targetsand population centres. Almost all the attacks will be suicide vehiclebombings, another AlQaeda hallmark. Although the attacks will result in masscasualties including Muslims, the Islamist groups will find sufficient supportto continue their fight against the US, its allies and friends.
Most of the attacks will be carried out not by AlQaeda but byassociate Islamist groups. As demonstrated in Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq andIndonesia, groups trained, armed, financed and indoctrinated by Al Qaeda areable to mount attacks as lethal as those by AlQaeda. These groups including theJemaah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia, will conduct AlQaeda-style attacks. AlQaedawill remain in the background inspiring and coordinating such attacks. Theterrorist groups will seek to acquire dual-use technology to enhance thelethality of their attacks, including chemical, biological and radiologicalweapons.The threat of hijacking aviation and maritime transportation to strikehuman targets and infrastructure remains significant. AlQaeda and its associategroups have attempted several times after 9/11 to hijack aircraft with theintention of attacking groung and maritime targets. A weakness in thetransportation chain in a target or a neighbouring country is likely to pavethe way for success.
With the failure of operational agencies to disrupt theAlQaeda-linked fleet of merchant ships whereby lethal cargo can be transportedrelatively easily, the future threat posed by surface to air missiles(SAMs)remains significant. As hijacking of aircraft becomes more difficult terroristsare likely to invest in attacking aircraft when airborne or on the ground withother weapons such as Light Anti-Tank Weapons. As aerial and ground targetsharden the vulnerability of the maritime domain to infiltration and attack hasincreased. An ocean going ship could be used not only to transport lethal cargobut also as a bomb to attack a port.
Regions of concern
Following the US-led coalition action in Afghanistan in October 2001the threat posed by AlQaeda has gone global, with AlQaeda organisers,financiers, o
peratives and other experts linking up with associate groups inmore hospitable zones in the Middle East and Horn of Africa. AlQaeda and its associategroups are now concentrated in four regions: Iraq and its border regions, Yemenand Horn of Africa, Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and Indonesian and Philippinesarchipelagos.
The Islamist ideologues have declared Iraq as a new land of jihad.In time the scale and intensity of the fighting in Iraq will increase with theunimpeded flow of mujahidin through Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia; collaborationbetween foreign mujahidin and Saddam loyalists; increased support from otherMuslim countries and covert or overt sanctuary and support from Iraq’sneighbours to the Iraqi fighters. Just like Afghanistan during the Sovietoccupation Iraq is becoming the new crucible of jihad for the world’sradicalised Muslims. While the bulk of the foreign mujahidin are from theLevant, with time Muslim youth from North Africa and the Gulf, Horn of Africaand the Caucusus as well as from Europe and Asia, are likely to enter Iraq.Just as Afghanistan produced the current generation of mujahidin, the nextgeneration of mujahidin is likely to be produced by Iraq.
AlQaeda has developed significant infrastructure in the Horn ofAfrica, including Somalia, and is using that region as a base to launchoperations both in the Gulf and in Africa. Several hundred AlQaeda members in Yemenare moving back and forth to East Africa to develop their organization. In thecoming years East African Islamist groups influenced by AlQaeda willparticipate in international terrorism.
Although nearly 600 AlQaeda members that fled Afghanistan and itsassociates in Pakistan have been arrested the reservoir of trained mujahidin isstill large, located along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. As Musharrafcontinues to target AlQaeda and Taliban members the support for Islamists andopposition to him is growing in Pakistan. To prevent an Islamist group comingto power sustained western assistance to Musharraf, improvedPakistan-Afghanistan relations and lasting resolution of the Indo-Pakistandispute over Kashmir are essential. As Hezbe Islami, Taliban and AlQaeda seekto develop Pakistan’s northwest frontier province as a staging pad to conductoperations into Afghanistan (in a repetition of the anti-Soviet Afghanmujahidin model) Pakistan remains the most pivotal state in the fight againstterrorism.
With the US in Iraq becomingIran’s immediate neighbour overnight, the hardliners in Tehran advocate supportfor anti-US insurgency in Iraq. Owing to sustained US-led coalition action inAfghanistan the bulk of the AlQaeda leaders and members moved to Iran andPakistan. An estimated 500 AlQaeda members led by Saif Al Adil and Saad binLaden are located in Iran. While the Iranian moderates call for tougher actionagainst AlQaeda the hardliners with previous training ties to AlQaeda wish toemulate the Lebanese Hezbollah’s coordinated suicide attacks on American andFrench forces barracks in Beirut in October 1983 forcing the Multi-nationalForce to withdraw.
The war against AlQaeda and its associate groups spearheaded by theUS has met with both success and failure. Although going to Iraq could be seenas an overreaction to 9/11 for the US to withdraw now would be a fatal error.The deadlines for troops withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan areunrealistic.The western powers and their Muslim partners must remain engaged inthese two theatres.
The effectiveness of the fight against AlQaeda and its associategroups is dependent on the long-term cooperation and coordination in sharingintelligence, conducting operations against terrorist groups and suppressingtheir support bases. To succeed it is paramount that the US maintain a robustanti-terrorism coalition, particularly the support of the Middle Eastern andAsian Muslim governments, and seek to change its image from that of anaggressor to a friend in the Muslim world.