Originally Published 2013-04-20 00:00:00 Published on Apr 20, 2013
With the US already having made a strong base to deal with terrorist activities from external sources, it is time the US, and other countries develop mechanisms that tackle home-grown groups with vigour, but without endangering the principles of 'rule of law'. This is particularly important as the elements of home-grown terrorism are, in fact, the citizens of the respective countries.
Boston bombings: The end of complacency
The joyous gathering of nearly half a million people turned to shock and dismay as two bomb blasts rocked the finish line of the Boston marathon. The festive atmosphere of the oldest exclusive marathon event in the world took a traumatic turn when the two blasts killed three people and injured countless others. The attack shattered the relative sense of security the American population was living under after the September 11 attacks.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has been working overtime to find the perpetrators of the attacks. President Barack Obama has given a clear mandate that those responsible for gruesome act will be brought to book. Senior officials in the US administration have been careful in not letting their comments imply any blame to be targeted towards any community. However, the same cannot be said of the vitriol being spewed by certain elements of society. Such rhetoric was expected given the nature of the blasts, and their resemblance to bombings in West Asia, and the horrific memories of September 11.

Gaping holes

The multiple attacks on that fateful day of September 2001 had revealed some gaping holes in the American security infrastructure. The US had, thereof, put in place the required infrastructure and processes to deny the possibility of such an event ever occurring again. The changes went beyond domestic infrastructure; the US has been in a sustained campaign to thwart terrorist organisations from establishing bases abroad either. The 9/11 attacks had made the US realise the dangers that it faces from right-wing Islamist elements based all around the world. The US focus in the last decade has been on eradicating this threat. The primary objective of its continued presence in Afghanistan is to deny access to international terrorist organisations to establish bases in the country to launch attacks against America or American interests.

Coupled with good luck and timely action, the US has thus far managed to thwart any attacks on its soil emanating from this same external threat. The attempted car-bomb at Times Square, New York did come close to carrying out a successful attack but luck had its own role to play in its failure. It is only natural, thus, that when faced with a constant barrage of belligerence from radical Islam that the US public perception, at the time of a perceived terrorist attack, will seek out such groups as the root of the threat.

However, the progress of the FBI investigations seems to suggest a different tact. The investigation is still underway and it is definitely too early to determine who the perpetrators are, but the latest set of suspects identified by the investigators gives an indication that the attack may not have been motivated by radical Islamist elements, and instead, may just be a reflection of disgruntlement with the domestic leadership. The latest pictures released by the FBI suggest that one of the suspects could be a white male, contrary to the vitriol being aimed at ethnic groups in the US.

Threats from within

While there are strong indications that Western countries like the US and its allies need to be constantly wary of the aforementioned threats from radical Islamist groups, there is equally strong indications that these same countries should also be concerned about the threats to their security that emanate from within. Especially in the US, ideas that suggest their President is a foreigner, a Muslim, and worst of all, an anti-Christ, is a clear suggestion of this tendency. The Oslo attack in early 2012 is also an indication of the rising extremist Christian fundamentalism in these countries.

Similarly, India too has been facing terrorist threats that have been aided and abetted outside for far too long. Nevertheless, India needs to be cognisant of the dangers of homegrown terrorism as well. Discounting insurgent movements, terrorism in India has for the most part been the result of Pakistani complicity. However, the growth of groups like the Indian Mujahideen belies that trend. Furthermore, threats are also emanating from majoritarian extremist groups within the country as well. India should be looking to refocus its energy on culling possibilities of home-grown terrorist activities gaining momentum.

Social network and proliferating technology also compounds to the problem. Proliferation of such technologies and their access to every spectrum of the society has given elements extensive reach in furthering their ideas. Today, it is possible for people to form allegiances or to identify themselves with others who are not necessarily in the same country or continent but are faced with similar societal conditions and have similar beliefs. Hacktivist groups such as "Anonymous" are an apt example.

So while it is all and good for countries to stem the possibility of terror threats that arise out of international groupings, all countries subject to such a fear must also seriously consider the growth of radical elements within the state’s sovereign boundaries. It is unlikely that these groups would carry out attacks at the level of the 9/11 hijackings in the US or the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. They will in turn have a more diffused trend in carrying out attacks. These actors may not necessarily be supported by organised terrorist organisations even while they might be influenced by a particular ideology. Identifying groups and patterns will become the prime challenge in counter-terrorism operations.


This in turn will make counter-terrorism operations even more complex as collecting intelligence and detecting trends about such standalone actors will be highly difficult. It becomes even more worrisome when protectors of law start detaining individuals on mere suspicion and backed by draconian laws. This would further alienate the perceived marginalised sections of the society.

It is likely that we will witness many more such incidents wherein the intelligence apparatus fails to identify the threats given the complexities involved. High-probability and low-intensity terrorist incidents will become the trend. There should not be particular alarm especially with regard to the Boston attacks. As argued above, the fundamental nature of terrorist threats are changing. The shift from high-intensity / low-probability to low-intensity/high-probability is only likely when successful mechanisms are drawn to curtail the former.

The ideology of terrorist organisations will not be the most important factor that the security establishment attempting to deal with violent extremist groups should be worried about. With the US already having made a strong base to deal with terrorist activities from external sources, it is time the US, and other countries that have to deal with similar threats, develop mechanisms that tackle home-grown groups with vigour, but without endangering the principles of ’rule of law’. This is particularly important as the elements of home-grown terrorism are, in fact, the citizens of the respective countries.

(The writer is a research scholar at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy : The Pioneer, April 20, 2013

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