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The New Terrorist Inc: Spreading Base

Controversy over the intent of the terrorist attack at the American Centre in Kolkata still persists. Nevertheless, whether the objective was a symbolic attack on an American establishment or vengeance against the Police, its execution by a marginal terrorist group – the Asif Raza Commando Force – has exposed linkages across the globe. These include direct connections through Bangladesh, Dubai and Pakistan, as well as operational connectivities that lead right up to ‘9/11’. As one American counter-terrorism official expressed it, "The terrorists who are targeting Indians are the same people who are trying to kill Americans."

But the linkages of the Islamist extremist Internationale, established over the last decade, are far more elaborate. This secret and complex web of terror is now being exposed through the meticulous reconstruction of enormous masses of evidence that have been uncovered since America and the West were rudely shaken out of the complacent ‘terror tolerating systems’ they had become part of. Today, truckloads of documents, videotapes and other evidentiary material recovered in Afghanistan since the beginnings of Operation Enduring Freedom, the interrogation of the Al Qaeda men held at Guantanamo Bay, and flows of information from hundreds of other prisoners currently in the custody of the new regime in Afghanistan, are yielding hard information on numberless terrorist cells spanning the world. These have already led to hundreds of arrests, prominently in France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Bosnia, Britain, Singapore, Malaysia, and even hitherto recalcitrant Yemen. And each new arrest exposes further links in a seemingly endless chain. Nearly 70 countries have been ‘infected’ by this contagion created out of the ideology of extremist Islamism. Independent efforts by Indian intelligence and security agencies are exposing and dismantling virtually a terrorist cell a week within this country.

This is unsurprising. The processes of militant Islamist mobilisation and training have long gone unhindered under open state sponsorship, certainly by Pakistan and Talibanised Afghanistan. The Taliban-Al Qaeda-ISI axis in Afghanistan alone is reported to have trained over 50,000 terrorists, and Osama bin Laden had emerged as the controlling hub of this terrorist Internationale.

‘The Base’ (Al Qaeda) has now, clearly, been dislocated – though there is no evidence that it has been destroyed. Indeed, despite the devastating force of the US operations in Afghanistan, the entire frontline leadership of the Taliban and the Al Qaeda has not been accounted for. Of the estimated 3,000 ‘hard core’ Al Qaeda cadre in Afghanistan, no more than a few hundred are in custody or confirmed dead. The rest have fled across the world, and this dispersal will have crucial impact on the trajectory of terrorism.

Within India, the metropolii will be increasingly targeted, and border areas with large flows of illegal migrants will present strong challenges for law enforcement.

Another important aspect of the current transformations is evident in the Kolkatta incident. The role of organised crime networks in terrorism. Visible state sponsorship is becoming progressively unsustainable – the American and media microscope now focuses unwaveringly on the traditional patrons of the politics of mass murder. Terrorist organisations will have to depend more and more on the criminal underground for both finance and logistical support, and will not only establish mutually useful connections with established Mafia, but will also progressively take organised criminal activities under their own wing. This has, of course, been the case in the past as well – and the complex of drug barons, gun-runners, extortionists, hawala operators and ‘political’ terrorists is already well established. It will, in the foreseeable future, become the mainstay of surviving terrorist activity, creating new challenges for law enforcement and new imperatives for international co-operation and legislation for effective counter-terrorist responses.

(Edited version published in Times of India, January 27, 2002.)





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