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London Attacks: Abiding Pattern of Global Terrorism

Cmde C. Uday Bhaskar (Retd) is former officiating Director of Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • July 11, 2005

    The July 7 multiple attacks in London that crippled the public transport system followed the terrorist attack in Ayodhya on July 5 and while the number of those killed is much lower than the March 2004 Madrid attacks or the mass tragedy of 9/11 that traumatized the USA, what is evident is that the global foot-print of terrorism maintains its malignant and diabolical credibility. Western Europe is within reach.

    It is to the credit of London that it has displayed characteristic stoicity – traits that it internalized during the dark days of World War II and the IRA attacks of more recent vintage. To that extent, the primary purpose of the terrorists to disrupt the rhythms of normalcy in one of the great metropolitan cities of the increasingly globalized world remains thwarted. London now joins the list of cities that carry the scars of bloody terrorism – Mumbai, Delhi, Karachi, Islamabad, Baghdad, Nairobi, Moscow, New York, Bali, Tel-Aviv – the list alas, is likely to grow.

    The temporal context of the London attack is instructive – it took place when the world's most important economic summit was taking place, the G 8 meeting in Scotland. Was the non-state entity (claimed to be an affiliate of the al-Qaida) demonstrating its defiant obduracy? Web sites have warned of dire consequences to follow and 'jihad' has been invoked but, on balance, it would appear that after the experience of 9/11, the global community has become more resilient and it must be added, cynical. Even as Londoners sifted through the debris to provide succour to the injured and counted the dead, life was limping back to normal and professionals noted with some satisfaction that the stock- markets were bouncing back. Yes, it will be business as usual – after the initial shock is over.

    Two inferences flow from the London attack. The empirical evidence suggests that there has been a steady increase in the spate of terrorist related attacks since April of this year. Both London and Ayodhya indicate that liberal democracies remain vulnerable and if the freedom of personal movement is not to be ruthlessly curtailed, preventive measures will have to be reviewed and appropriate surveillance procedures introduced.

    The pattern of the attacks suggest that the so called 'sleeper cells' remain intact and potent. Many European states have followed draconian measures to round up suspects –based on religion and ethnicity – and intelligence agencies have hinted at major attacks being foiled. The globalized world of 2005 enables the terrorist as much as it does the sinews of international commerce and social intercourse and hence looking for a terrorist as an individual, or the group that nurtures such individuals, is the veritable equivalent of looking for a 'needle in a needle-stack', when urban demographics in the major cities cross the 10 million mark.

    Thus the first strand relates to the emergence of the densely inhabited metropolis as a domain more likely to be inhabited by the malignant non-state entity for the breeding of sleeper cells and units. The ideological motivation for such members can range from misplaced religious zealotry (jihad against the western infidel) to inflexible political objectives (resolution of the Iraq quagmire or the Palestine issue). Consequently the big city becomes a source of security concern, particularly those parts of the city outside the law and order grid that are broadly classified as shanties, slums or inner-cities. The need to evolve effective information gathering networks and counter-intelligence strategies within the spatial grid of the city is paramount and here the human intelligence skill and sensitivity will have to be prioritized. Potential sleepers or collaborators from within will have to be patiently tracked and apprehended before they can strike, and to that extent this blunting of terrorism will have to be waged more like a sustained and unobtrusive campaign than a high-visibility TV-friendly war.

    The second aspect is more strategic and in the realm of political will. The world's critical political leadership was present in Scotland for the G-8 summit and while the collective resolve to combat terrorism was predictable, the implementation remains effete. The UNSC resolution in the aftermath of 9-11 was as unanimous as it will ever be in the global comity but the track-record of the last four years shows that many states have used a selective interpretation tactic to meet short-term political interests when it comes to dealing with the breeding grounds of terror practitioners.

    The need to implement political resolutions and pious intent and empower individual states and the world at large with a uniform legislative and judicial mechanism is more urgent now than ever before. The law is a deterrent when it is implemented in a fair and firm manner and exponentially impotent when there is a mismatch between word and deed.

    It is in this regard that there is a need to evolve a harmonious domestic, regional and global political accord about appropriate legislation that protects democratic values and freedoms and is yet able to deter the perpetrator of mindless terrorism – the killing of innocent human beings, wherever they are, in distant Sudan or proximate London.

    The ideological motivation and the support structures of terrorism are akin to the socio- cultural and politico-military clone of HIV and civil society has to be mobilized through an awareness campaign that can determinedly quarantine the breeding schools that abet such deviant behaviour.

    The silver lining of London is not that the terrorist has struck unexpectedly but that civil society will not be cowed down and that both state and its constituent elements will respond with steely but quiet determination to eliminate this malignant virus that was once supported by the same institutions that are now trying to contain it. National security software programmes have to be re-written, starting with the political will that informs the democratic dispensation.