Originally Published 2004-01-02 07:01:14 Published on Jan 02, 2004
There has been no credible evidence so far of any mastermind having orchestrated the various serious acts of jihadi terrorism reported during 2003, whether from Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Iraq or Turkey. The available evidence indicates that all these incidents were planned and executed by local elements, which share the pan-Islamic ideology of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and the International Islamic Front (IIF), but not necessarily their priorities.
2004 : State of Jihadi Terrorism
There has been no credible evidence so far of any mastermind having orchestrated the various serious acts of jihadi terrorism reported during 2003, whether from Indonesia,  Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Iraq or Turkey. The available evidence indicates that all these incidents were planned and executed by local elements, which share the pan-Islamic  ideology of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and the International Islamic Front (IIF), but not necessarily their priorities. The terrorist attacks were carried out by local elements for local reasons except in Saudi Arabia, where the motivation has been partly domestic and partly pan-Islamic. Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri were more heard than seen. While audio and video cassettes purporting to carry their messages were periodically disseminated from Pakistan through Al Jazeera TV channel, there has been no human intelligence report of their having been actually seen anywhere. Pakistani media reports had claimed that during his preliminary interrogation by Pakistani officials after his capture at Rawalpindi in March last, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) had indicated that bin Laden was alive, but it is not known whether he repeated this assertion before the US interrogators after he was handed over to the US by Pakistan. The position that "they are presumed to be alive unless proved to be dead" continues. Barring the terrorist incidents in Saudi Arabia, where the signature and smell of Al Qaeda were clearly evident, there has been no credible evidence  so far of the involvement of Al  Qaeda in any of the other jihadi terrorist incidents, despite suspicions or claims to the contrary by local investigating officials, as in Turkey, for example. The fact, often cited, that some of the perpetrators had been to training camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan  does not necessarily mean that they were acting at the instance of Al Qaeda or bin Laden. Such presumptions seeking to project bin Laden and Al Qaeda as masterminding every major act of jihadi terrorism anywhere in the world is unwisely creating an image of Al Qaeda as if it is another super power confronting the US and of bin Laden as the Napoleon of jihadi terrorism, a master strategist planning and co-ordinating acts of jihadi terrorism here, there, everywhere. The unwitting creation of such images of a despicable terrorist  is unwise and could prove counter-productive. The Taliban, which with the help of Gulbuddin Heckmatyar's Hizbe Islami staged a highly disturbing come-back in the Pashtun areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan between August and November, seems to have lost somewhat  the momentum of its operations in the last few weeks of the year, but it still retains the motivation, following and capability to step up its operations once again when the circumstances are favourable. There has been no evidence of any Al Qaeda involvement in the Taliban's offensive. It is an offensive planned and executed by the Taliban with the help of its Pakistani supporters and from sanctuaries in Pakistan. Pakistan continues to be the main sanctuary of the dregs of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the Chechens, the Uighurs and the South-East Asian terrorists, who had escaped from Afghanistan after the US military offensive started on October 7,2001, as well as of the jihadi terrorists operating in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and other parts of India. The jihadi training infrastructure previously located in Afghanistan is  now located  in Pakistani territory, mainly in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Balochistan, the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan). The military-controlled regime continues to be reluctant to act effectively against the terrorist infrastructure in its territory.While the training to foreign jihadis in the Afghan camps used to be imparted by Arab and Chechen instructors, the training in the present Pakistani camps is being imparted largely by Pakistanis. While the Lhaskar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), a member of the IIF, continued to indulge in anti-Shia terrorism in Balochistan and Sind, 2003 saw no major act of terrorism directed against Western nationals or interests in Pakistan. This was  due to the action taken by the military-intelligence establishment against some operatives of Al Qaeda and against the Pakistani components of the IIF which had attacked Western nationals and interests repeatedly  during 2002. These organisations, which consequently suffered some attrition during 2003, have been trying to re-group, re-train and re-motivate their cadres before they strike again. The two daring attempts to kill President General Pervez Musharraf in December,2003, mark the resurgence of these elements after lying low for 11 months. The investigations made so far do not give a clear indication of the identity of the organisation behind them.The Pakistani authorities claim to have succeeded in identifying the two suicide bombers involved in the incident of December 25,2003, as a Kashmiri from the POK belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), which is also a member of the IIF, and an Afghan from the Panjsher Valley of Afghanistan belonging to a hitherto little known organisation called Afghan Jihad.There are still many unanswered questions and hence it would be premature to  assess whether there was any Al Qaeda involvement or whether it was an operation mounted by locaL elements associated with Al Qaeda at their own initiative for their own reasons such as  Musharraf's role in the US operations in Afghanistan  and his perceived humiliation of some Pakistani nuclear scientists at the instance of the US by subjecting them to interrogation on their links with North Korea, Iran and Libya. The two anti-Musharraf statements attributed to al-Zawahiri during the year  and the one anti-Pakistan statement attributed to bin Laden indicate the possibility of an Al Qaeda inspiration for the attacks, if not direct involvement. Musharraf's surprise compromise deal with the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, the six-party coalition of pro-Taliban and pro-bin Laden religious fundamentalist parties, is a desperate  attempt to pacify Al Qaeda and the IIF through the leaders of the coalition. It remains to be seen whether he would succeed. Al Qaeda dregs in Pakistan are  now concentrated in the FATA, the NWFP and Balochistan.The presence of some sleeper cells in the Rawalpindi cantonment adjoining Islamabad is also strongly suspected. After the April,2003,arrest of Walid bin Attash, a suspect in the attack on the US naval  ship USS Cole at Aden in October,2000,and his handing-over to the US, there have been no reports of any major presence of Al Qaeda dregs in Karachi. A number of Arabs, supposedly linked to Al Qaeda, were arrested by the Pakistani authorities in different parts of the country during 2003, but the suspicion of their links to Al Qaeda remained uncorroborated. Al Qaeda's command and control remains disrupted, but its anti-US and anti-Israel motivation remains unimpaired despite the attrition in its leadership and ranks. However, there has been no evidence of any fresh recruitment and training after October 7,2001. All fresh recruits, who have come out of the training camps in Pakistan after October 7,2001, either belonged to the Pakistani componernts of the IIF or to other national or regional jihadi terrorist organisations such as the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) of South-East Asia and not to Al Qaeda. An anti-Indian and an anti-Hindu  motive became evident for the first time in the propaganda of Al Qaeda during 2003. Its anger also continues to be directed against other nations such as the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Norway (for reasons not clear) and Australia, perceived as  US surrogates. Waziristan in the FATA continued to figure in reports received during 2003 as an important sanctuary not only for the dregs of Al Qaeda, but also for the Chechen and Uighur dregs, who managed to escape from Afghanistan. Under US pressure, the Pakistan army mounted a seemingly serious counter-terrorist operation in that area, but with meagre results. Many of the Chechens, who had taken shelter there, are since reported to have gravitated to Iraq. Despite this, the FATA in general and Waziristan in particular remain an important launching-board for jihadi terrorism directed against Western, Israeli, Chinese, Russian and Indian nationals and interests. The role of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) as the new co-ordinator of the IIF due to the difficulties faced by Al Qaeda in continuing to perform this role became evident during the year, particularly after the arrest of bin Attash. The LET is a member of the IIF, but till 2001, it remained largely an India-centric organisation. It has been exclusively or partly responsible for most of the major acts of jihadi terrorism in Indian territory since 1999. It has been one Pakistani component of the IIF, which has kept away from terrorist activities in Pakistani territory, whether directed against Western nationals and interests or against Shias despite the strong anti-Shia influence in it. It has consequently managed to remain in the favour of Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment as the preferred instrument in Pakistan's proxy war against India. Its infrastructure, manpower, financial resources and motivation remain as strong as ever. It shares bin Laden's pan-Islamic objectives, but till 2001, avoided an active role outside India. It set up branches in Saudi Arabia and other countries of the Gulf, but more for recruitment and motivation amongst the large Indian Muslim diaspora in the region than for operating against the Governments of the region. Since 2001, it has been paying more attention to other areas such as the Eastern province of Sri Lanka, which has a pocket of Muslim concentration, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. For the present, it would appear that  its interest in South-East Asia is motivated by the need to help the JI recover from the effects of the attrition suffered by it post-2001. There is no evidence till now to show that another reason could be to target the Indian Muslim migrants in South-East Asia for recruitment and use in South India. But, this is an aspect, which has to be closely monitored. Of all the Pakistani components of the IIF, the LET is one organisation which has a definite jihadi agenda in South India and is constantly looking for opportunities to build a presence and capability for that purpose in South India. The detection of an LET cell in the US during the year and reports of a likely or suspected cell in Australia indicate its interest in new areas of operation. The happenings in Saudi Arabia should be a matter of serious concern not only to the West, but also to all countries in Asia, which are dependent on Saudi Arabia for their energy requirements. Taking advantage of the thinning out of the US military presence there, Al Qaeda has stepped up its activities there in a dramatic manner. Despite large-scale arrests and recoveries of cached arms and ammunition by the Saudi authorities, the motivation of Al Qaeda terrorists there remains unaffected. If the Saudi statistics of arms and ammunition captured during raids in different parts of the country are correct, it speaks poorly of the vigilance of the Saudi security agencies. Such large-scale smuggling, mainly through Yemen, and networking inside Saudi Arabia would not have been possible without the complicity of sympathisers inside the Saudi security apparatus and amongst retired officers. While a lot is known about Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and its nexus with jihadi terrorists, very little is known about the nexus of the Saudi security agencies with Al Qaeda. It wants to have the present rulers of Saudi Arabia to be replaced by its own rule. Al Qaedisation of Saudi Arabia is its objective. Al Qaeda wants to use Saudi Arabia as a base for its future operations directed against the US and Israel and for operating against the coalition troops led by the US in Iraq. For the present, it is using Pakistan and Yemen as the rear bases for its operations in Saudi Arabia and has left the operations in Afghanistan totally in the hands of the Taliban and Hizbe Islami. In Iraq, there is definitely the involvement of external jihadi terrorists mainly in the operations through suicide bombers against the UN and other international organisations and against the coalition troops. Their number is limited to about 320. Their operations are not being commanded and controlled by Al Qaeda. Various elements associated with Al Qaeda such as the Arab nationals of Chechen origin, Pakistanis belonging to the IIF, Yemenis, Yemeni-Balochis etc have gone there mainly through Saudi Arabia and have been operating autonomously. There is no mastermind overseeing  their operations or co-ordinating them with those of the  indigenous resistance movement. The combing operations undertaken by the Saudi security agencies in different parts of their country have come in the way of the infiltration of more jihadi terrorists into Iraq. The so-called foreign brigade, which was operating in Chechnya in Russia, has been thinned out with most of its members moving to Jordan and Iraq to participate in the operations in Iraq. The recent terrorist strikes in the vicinity of Chechnya and Moscow are attributable to elements from Chechnya itself and from the Chechen diaspora in the rest of Russia. There is no evidence of foreign involvement. The Philippines and Indonesia continue to be the main areas of concern in South-East Asia. Despite the strong action taken by the local governments against jihadi organisations such as the Abu Sayyaf, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the JI etc, they have not yet been able to identify totally and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure  in their country. The preventive measures taken by the security agencies of Singapore and Malaysia have been far more effective and have prevented the JI and allied organisations from mounting any operation from their territory. However, the possibility of hitherto undetected sleeper cells waiting for an opportunity to strike cannot be ruled out. Thailand, which lost two of its troops in Iraq to terrorist attacks last month, could become a new target of Al Qaeda for its role in Iraq. Similar danger faces Japan and South Korea for the same reason. During the year, there were reports of a debate in the jihadi circles in Pakistan about the wisdom of bin Laden's action in taking on the US directly by launching the terrorist strikes of 9/11 in the US homeland, which have provoked the US to use its military might to crush Al Qaeda and the IIF. Critics of bin Laden's action argue that the initial focus of their jihad should have been on identifying and weeding out the surrogates of the US in the Islamic world. This argument for an initial offensive against the surrogates seems to be enjoying increasing support. The two attacks on Musharraf were an indication of this. Amongst other identified surrogates whom they want to eliminate  are interim President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, the rulers of Saudi Arabia, the members of the Iraqi governing council and the King of Jordan. (1-1-04)

< class="greytext1" style="font-size: small;">(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, the Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow, and Convenor, Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: [email protected] )

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