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Five lessons from London

By B Raman
July 08, 2005 18:54 IST
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LESSON NO 1: Widespread Muslim anger all over the world due to the manner in which the US-led coalition has been waging the so-called war against terrorism has been the root cause of all post-9/11 acts of jihadi terrorism attributable to the Al Qaeda and the International Islamic Front (IIF).

The fact that the US has been waging the war in foreign territory against foreign nationals and not against its own nationals in its own territory has deprived its operations of any measure of self-restraint. No weapon is out of bounds to the US troops participating in this war and no methods are above the law.

Weapons and methods which have never been used by other countries in their counter-terrorism campaigns are being used by the US against the jihadi terrorists -- such as air strikes and use of heavy artillery and armour. There have been blatant violations of human rights and the terrorist detenues have been subjected to a kind of degrading treatment, the like of which will enrage any community.

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More Indian civilians have died at the hands of jihadi terrorists than nationals of any other country. Yet, we try to observe considerable self-restraint in our counter-terrorism campaigns. No air strikes, no use of heavy artillery, no armour, no shaving off of the beards of the detenus, no shackles on their legs, no restrictions on their praying in a group, no isolation, no ban on their relatives meeting them periodically, no instances of degrading treatment or disrespect to their religion.

Allegations of torture are often made against the Indian security forces---some of them true---but nobody has ever accused them of practices like descecrating the Holy Koran, forcing the detenus to undress and indulge in simulated sexual acts with each other etc.

Counter-terrorism as practised by the US has itself become the root cause of the post-9/11 aggravated terrorism. Unless this is admitted and rectified, the world will see more and more of jihadi terrorism.

Of all the Western security services, the MI-5 is considered the most competent. It has identified more sleeper cells in the UK and arrested more terrorist suspects than any other service. The fact that despite this it was taken by surprise on July 7 shows that the more it identifies and arrests suspects, the more the number of new volunteers, unknown to it, to replace them. The continuing flow of new volunteers cannot be stopped unless and until the US changes its counter-terrorism methods.

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LESSON NO.2: The flow of preventive intelligence continues to be unsatisfactory. Even the law-abiding members of the Muslim community, who do not approve of terrorism, are unwilling to co-operate with the security agencies by passing on information coming to their notice either because of intimidation or because they share the anger of those who have taken to terrorism. Intelligence agencies continue to face difficulties in penetrating terrorist organisations and their ability for the collection of technical intelligence (TECHINT) has been eroded. Before the advent of the mobile phones, the terrorists were largely using land-line phones for their communications. It is easy to intercept land-line conversations. It is much more difficult to intercept and analyse in time communications over the mobile phone and through the Internet. Moreover, the terrorists have become much more adept in strengthening their communications security.

How to get over this? This is a question which has to be jointly addressed by the intelligence agencies of the world.

LESSON NO.3: The terrorists are eschewing hand-held weapons, which can be easily detected, and increasingly using explosives, which are more difficult to detect. While the international community has paid some attention to action against the spread of small arms and ammunition, it has paid inadequate attention to action against the spread of explosives.

Since the New York World Centre explosion in February,1993, the terrorists are increasingly using commonplace explosives such as nitrogenous fertilisers etc, which can be easily procured without creating suspicion. How to deny them access to even commonplace explosive material is a question which needs urgent attention.

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LESSON NO.4: Means of transport have always been the favourite targets of the terrorists. The panic and dislocation created and the casualties caused are more.

It is reasonably possible to provide effective physical security to air-borne and sea-borne transport. Physical security for land-based transport such as trains, the tube and buses is much more difficult. The only way of providing reasonable security is by having anti-explosive checks at every station and in every bus.

The cost involved will be prohibitive and it will be difficult to implement. At the same time, one cannot throw up one's hands and say that nothing can be done to reduce the vulnerability of land-based transport to terrorist attacks. A via media has to be found, which will have at least some deterrent effect. One way could be to have random, rotational anti-explosive checks at rail and tube stations and in buses.

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LESSON NO.5: The so-called war against jihadi terrorism cannot be won without effective action against states, which have been using them, conniving with their activities or tolerating them in their territory. The international community has to find a more effective way of dealing with the jihadi terrorist and proliferation infrastructure in the territories of countries such as Pakistan.

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B Raman