Friday, January 19, 2007

Terrorism in 2006

2006 has turned out to be a pretty eventful year for terrorism. While Indonesia took a well-deserved respite since the killing of Azahari, the rest of the world (and its terrorists) has gone on with their business of bombing anything and anyone it doesn’t like.

The religion of peace has been a keen compiler of the 2006 statistics on terror. According to them, in 2006, there were 2,281 terror attacks all over the world and if one excludes Afghanistan and Iraq, the number is almost halved to 1,102 attacks. If we suspend our disbelief and skepticism on how the numbers were compiled for one moment, 2006 actually saw a 5-fold decrease on global attacks from 2005. The latter, according to the US State Department, saw 11,111 attacks.

Again according to the US State Department, if we subtract the 2005 number of non-fatal attacks, the number would be about 5,500. This still augurs well for the 2006 statistic, but sadly, doesn’t translate as automatic progress for the world nor the men and women involved in fighting terrorism. Why? Because despite the 5-fold drop in attacks in 2006, 15,235 people died compared with 14,600 in 2005. A lot less attacks, but still more deaths.

In February 2006, terrorists unsuccessfully attacked the Abqaiq oil facility in Saudi Arabia. And the oil industry in the Muiddle Eats gained worldwide attention as a target of attack by Islamist terrorist. Though Iraqi oil pipelines had been attacked as early as 2004, and though oil companies and staff members had been the victim of earlier terrorist attacks, the Abqaiq attack was indicative of a bold attempt to attack a major centre of the global oil industry. A successful attack would have had profound economic and symbolic impact on the world. Some say that they have heeded Osama bin Ladin’s call to bleed them (the West) till bankruptcy. Yet Osama had earlier cautioned against the targeting of oil, believing that the resource would bring much benefit to the Muslim ummah. It seems he has changed his mind and in December 2004, called on aspiring terrorists to “stop the greatest theft in history” and to focus their attacks on oil productions in Iraq and the Gulf region.

Public transport in 2006 also took continued beating as terrorists sought “maximum kill” on human lives. The Mumbai train bombings in July 2006 which killed 180 people was followed by another train bombing in West Bengal in November 2006. Some attacks in 2006 were foiled and publicly announced. Their targets were varied but all were planned with a vision comparable to September 11. For example, the UK airline plot uncovered in August 2006 envisioned exploding 10 airplanes in mid-air. The Manhattan/NY subway plot envisaged blowing up subway trains while traveling under the Hudson River in the hopes that the explosions below would cause the river to flow into the tunnels and unleash an flood in Lower Manhattan and Wall Street. In Southeast Asia, Azahari’s compatriot Noordin Mohd Top had planned to attack a power plant in Indonesia. But that was in late-2005 and the plan was foiled not by the authorities, but apparently due to a lack of resources.

Away from the high-profile nature of these foiled and successful attacks, innocent people, soldiers and militants continue their mutual destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each soldier that the “Baghdad sniper” kills will contribute in local legend to as the Iraqis (the terrorists at least) hastily construct their own Vassilli Zaitsev.

Against the publicity of ‘home-grown’ terrorism, terrorist manuals circulating on the internet and fragile race and religious relations in most of the world, the latest announcement by US President George Bush to beef up troop strength in Iraq must have caught some by surprise; especially the outline of his faith in the willingness of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to shoulder responsibility (and success) for the Iraqi 2007 plan. It certainly did with most Democrats and they will be trying their hardest to block funding in Congress. Pelosi has already made it very clear that Bush’s Iraq war account will face very harsh scrutiny in Congress.

Well, I believe that Bush is doing the right thing since to pull out from Iraq in 2007 would be both irresponsible (for the mess at least) and politically premature. Looking at the way terrorism has turned out in 2006, there doesn’t seem to be compelling reasons that US presence in Iraq is the major contributor of global terrorism. Aspiring terrorists will go anywhere to chalk up experience (remember Ambon? And the fears of south Thailand?) While terrorists cite US/Iraq as their reason for attacks, they also cite other reasons, some of which are tied to the domestic policies of their own governments. Afterall Ayman Zawahiri was an Egyptian and had started out in the Egytian Islamic Jihad fighting against the Egyptian government (no doubt against its pro-Western foreign policies and corruption scandals of Anwar Sadat, who in turn, had earlier fought against British colonial rule and was duly imprisoned).

But that’s another story. I hope that Bush’s 2007 Iraq plan will in some way trickle down into positive awareness that after one takes away the guns, the bullets, the turbans, the uniforms and the manuals, you still have to talk to one another. All this in 2006.

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