On the defensive: "one thing is certain.... Military intervention in Iraq and the climate of open rebellion that ensued profoundly have altered the terms of the [terrorist] threat and now condition its development.".
The terrorist threat has grown continuously and diversified itself by constantly multiplying its networks on a global scale. Now, for the first time in history, no region of the world is safe.
However, the real scale of the terrorist threat and predictions about how it may change in the future are very difficult to measure. The media often have overemphasized certain sensitive or critical events without really addressing the structural dimension of a phenomenon that only is rendered visible by its most violent manifestations. Like an earthquake, a terrorist attack never is an isolated event. It is the result of a build up of pressure or, in this context, a long-term strategy. This strategy of terrorism increasingly is diversified, taking into account its enemies' strengths and weaknesses and demonstrating a frightening opportunism in the face of world development, geopolitical aspects, and the political agenda of the world's states.
The Islamic threat not only has become globalized, it has developed a globalized strategy of attack. This can be seen in terms of targets and the means used. In 2001, Al Qaeda and the other terrorist networks that had joined them--or that share the same ideology--shifted from traditional methods of bombing to using civilian aircraft as weapons of mass destruction. These have been developed through diversification, with the sole objective of intensifying the message of terror.
Suicide bombing operations used by Palestinian organizations and Chechen terrorists now are, since the Iraqi conflict, also employed by the terrorist networks that have joined the movement of the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This diversification of methods also is illustrated by the capacity of certain networks to use unconventional weapons--chemical, biological, or even radioactive--known as "dirty bombs." These are not merely suppositions, but serious hypotheses that must be considered by the Western intelligence and anti-terrorist services.
In 2002, France successfully dismantled a radical Islamic network that intended to attack its territory usIng toxic substances. Europe incontestably has become a major target for Al Qaeda since the strengthening of the role of the GSPC. Yet, it is not the sole target, either geographically or in terms of the terrorists' motives and objectives. Al Qaeda and the organizations and structures working alongside it adeptly have integrated methods of communication into their strategy by using satellite television channels and the Internet. This opportunistic use of media broadcasting, digital transmission, and provocation to communicate threats has become Al Qaeda's new weapon, helping them promote their specific objectives as well as the general feeling of insecurity and fear. Besides mastering the use of these Al Qaeda has the details of the global economy into its strategy, particularly the interdependence of financial markets and their volatility, the energy crisis, and commodities exchanges.
International terrorism of Islamic origin, which is characterized as being all at once highly decentralized, polymorphous in its structures and organization, everchanging, and global, is at the center of the problems and risks that our societies are facing. These risks threaten our collective safety and the individual liberties that are the basis of our democratic societies. They likewise are political and geopolitical, as shown by the Iraqi dilemma and recent developments in the Middle East. Finally, the risks are societal and environmental, and could lead to economic or monetary crises through terrorist action.
A fragile West
In the face of this global threat, the reaction of the democratic, especially Western, countries and the regimes associated with them is fragile and lacks unity. As yet, we have been unable to agree upon a global and unified anti-terrorist approach, given that we have not even managed to agree upon a common definition of terrorism. Despite the gravity of the situation, it seems that a certain egocentrism reigns and that the individual interests of states prevail. The European Union--with its 450,000,000 consumers--is a major player in the global economy, despite its political disparities and the absence of a constitution that would legitimize its institutions. In the past decade, Europe especially has seen the growth of militant Islamic networks and groups devoted to the Salafist cause, which today have joined the elusive Al Qaeda movement. This radical Islamic movement based in Europe has profited from these disparities and from the resulting legal and institutional loopholes that have prevented the implementation of a united and consistent European terrorist prevention policy, even if significant progress has been made in this field. So far, Europe has encountered real difficulties in efficiently managing the double-edged problem of immigration and integration of the immigrant population into our societies.
The British model that so often has been cited as a reference nevertheless showed its limits with the London bomb attacks and the subsequent threats last summer. For its part, France has not fared better with its integration model, which is the opposite of British multiculturalism. The urban violence in France in November 2005 is a clear example. These events, incidentally, were exaggerated and often misinterpreted by the international press. Nevertheless, for the majority of European specialists, this burst of violence is a reflection of a disturbing trend in EU countries, including Britain.
It is true that the situation in France is somewhat unique with a largely North African immigrant community representing 8.5% of the total population. The unprecedented street rioting in France was sparked off by several factors. The first is an inefficient immigration policy inspired by a generous ideal of the right to asylum advocated by human rights proponents. Another is bad urban planning that led to a concentration of inner city public housing that encouraged a ghetto mentality and the marginalization of populations deprived of the benefits of economic growth and education. In general, the desired and largely praised integration approach has not worked. These populations feel abandoned and excluded from society and completely have lost their bearings. As a result, they cannot identify with any national ideal or share our values.
The nostalgic return to a reconstructed history, an oversimplification of their ethical and social references, and a feeling of revolt has pushed many of them over the edge into marginality and violence, seen as the sole means of existence and expression. However, one thing is certain: the urban violence is not political or religious in nature. It was not caused by an Islamic movement and, it has not yet, by all accounts, been taken over by one. Of course, this does not mean that, in time, the radical Islamic networks present in our country will not seek to channel this potential violence to their advantage.
In any case, the problem of controlling the influx of immigrants has become particularly sensitive, as has the need to create a united European policy in this domain. Even if no rink has been established between the urban violence of November 2005 and the terrorist threat, we nevertheless can affirm that the latter is linked directly to movements within the EU and, in particular, to the rising number of people entering Europe illegally. The situation in Iraq and the parallel formation of a new jihad stronghold have amplified this phenomenon by splitting existing networks and accelerating the movements of their militants spurred on by the Iraqi conflict both inside and outside Europe.
These different examples highlight the fact that the terrorist threat feeds on various rapidly changing opportunistic factors, which are extremely hard to quantify or analyze. These mainly are ideological and political, but are social, economic, and even existential in nature as well. Moreover, regional conflicts, political crises, and extremely sensitive geographical zones exacerbate the intensity of the threat, which unquestionably is on the rise--and its progression in the short and medium term does not give any cause for optimism. In France, the threat level currently is four on a scale of one to five.
Yet, is the rise of terrorism inevitable, and could this development have been predicted? The origins of the tragic events of 9/11 certainly were detectable. They should have been anticipated during the decade leading up to them. The Sept. 11 attacks were not an accident of history or a terrible stroke of fate. They took seed in a gradual change born of a long-standing division. After the fall of communism, the West dreamt of a new world that would enjoy an era of prosperity and freedom, but this was forgetting other realities. The post-Communist era led to a divided and antagonistic world in which nationalist tensions and radical ideologies were exacerbated. Some of them, cultivating hatred, took on a theological label.
This was the case for the Salafist doctrine in its most extreme form, which preaches a call to an armed jihad to restore a worldwide caliphate. This new development contributed to the emergence of the Armed Islamic Group known as GIA in Algeria in 1991-92, of the Indonesian Jamaa'h Islamyia, of Egypt's Gamma'h Islamyia, and of the Islamic jihad led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. France, confronted with this threat in 1993, was forced to react earlier than most. The implantation in our country of logistic and financial networks supporting the underground militants in Algeria was a sign of a change in GIA strategy: the exportation of violence to France in the name of the jihad.
The GIA is a Salafist organization like Al Qaeda. At the end of 1994, led by Djamel Zitouni, it hijacked an Air France flight on its way from Algiers to Paris. The objective was to cause the aircraft to crash in the center of Paris. In 1995, the discovery of a copy of the tract of GIA propaganda, "Al Ansar," in London was extremely significant, conjuring up images in our minds of the Eiffel Tower in pieces and stamped with the initials GIA. For the first time, a Salafist organization had set in motion the plan of using an aircraft as a weapon of mass destruction. This was back in 1994. Six months later, France was struck by a wave of bomb attacks.
The years that followed would show that the epicenter of the threat had moved towards the Pakistan-Afghanistan region and that the U.S. had become the number-one target. In 1996, thanks to an investigation into the trafficking of false Moroccan passports, a huge global web of cells and underground structures linked to Al Qaeda was exposed. This network had its base in Montreal and was made up of several radical militant Islamists working under the leadership of two activists: Fateh Kamel and Ahmed Ressam. At that time, they already had supporters in Europe, North America, Asia, and even Australia, and they secretly were preparing their first operation on American soil.
On Dec. 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam, better known as the "Millennium Bomber," was arrested in Washington, D.C., and his car was found to contain several kilos of explosives and a detonator. His target was to have been Los Angeles airport, and it was discovered that the network painstakingly had set up logistic support structures in California, New York, and Canada. This first attempt at direct action on American soil was the prelude to a second attack in the same way as the hijacking of the Air Fiance jet in 1994 took place just months before the wave of attacks in 1995, and yet these initial events were neglected--they were too scattered and unpredictable in the absence of the type of major attacks that really capture the world's attention. Even the attack on the World Trade Center in New York in 1993 was not considered indicative of a broader trend.
All the Western countries demonstrated a terrible naivete and negligence in the face of this irrepressible rise in terrorist violence. This development should have been anticipated; even at that time, the anti-terrorist experts should have been able to see it coming. It took the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, for the U.S. and the rest of the world to wake up to the extent of the horrific reality of the terrorist threat. A radical, global, violent, and dedicated terrorism was spurred on by Al Qaeda and supported by countless networks and activist cells sharing the same strategy. These networks have developed rapidly and are spreading all over the world, with no centralized command structure.
Islamic terrorism is a response to economic globalization, but also the spread of democratic ideals. These developments irrevocably condemned all sectarian and repressive ideologies and totalitarian regimes. For Al Qaeda, the only response was to use violence and spread fear. Therefore, once the split between communism and capitalism was no more, the radical Islamic movement would base its strategy of reprisal on promoting a violent jihad throughout the world. It is clear that this threat has diversified and spread around the globe over the years. This threat is highly splintered, profoundly evolving, and spreading like a tumor. Despite the archaic ideology underlying the radical Islamic movement, it has a growing capacity to use cutting edge technology. These attributes provide a measure of the difficulty of the task ahead of us.
Iraq fans the flames
The current level of the threat largely is due to the situation in Iraq. If the military reaction of the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan after 9/11 put Al Qaeda on the defensive, the Iraqi issue gave it a new impetus. Europe became a priority flash point, but other regions of the world also have been targeted, especially Southeast Asia. At the same time, the jihad sympathizers have become even more radical and have diversified their strategies in terms of targets and methods. From 2001-03, Al Qaeda and its supporters, through isolated but highly symbolic operations--the bombing of a synagogue in Djerba, attempting to sink a petrol tanker in Yemen, and the attacks in Karachi--are a means of showing the world that they remain very capable of taking action.
At the same time, another epicenter has replaced Afghanistan: Chechnya and the Caucasus region. An example can be seen in the case of the dismantling of a radical Islamic network in France in December 2002 and the discovery that its members had been trained in Northern Georgia by Chechen rebels linked to a network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This investigation revealed that operational links had been forged between the network of the Chechen leader Shamil Basayev and Al Qaeda.
Thus, neither the collapse of the Taliban regime, nor the capture or neutralization of the leaders of Al Qaeda, nor even the anti-terrorist procedures set in motion all around the world have been able to curb this threat. Aside from the war in Iraq, other elements have caused this threat to become more entrenched and allowed it to grow to its present scale:
* The strategic reorientation of the Islamist networks targeting Europe.
* The strengthening of the role of the GSPC in Northern Africa.
* The role of the Pakistani networks in Europe, especially Great Britain.
* The Iranian crisis.
* The conditions in the Middle East.
* The gradual deterioration of the situation in the Pakistan-Afghanistan zone and the parallel emergence of a crisis zone spreading to Asia.
* The risk of terrorism infiltrating Southeast Asia and destabilizing the countries in that region.
One thing is certain, though--military intervention in Iraq and the climate of open rebellion that ensued profoundly have altered the terms of the threat and now condition its development. Since 2003, Al Qaeda propaganda significantly has boosted the number of new recruits joining the so-called Holy War. Iraq has overtaken Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Chechnya in its capacity to attract new jihad supporters. What's more, through its power to drum up support, this Iraqi "black hole" has divided up into networks and cells linked to the European radical Islamic movement. By fanning the flames of radicalism, the Iraqi networks have persuaded jihadists to carry out suicide bombing operations.
In 2003-04, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi did not think twice about using them as cannon-fodder against U.S. troops. The situation changed in mid 2004, as many of the members of these networks returned to Europe after completing a military training in the Syria-Iraq region to promote the cause of Jihad via terrorist operations. The movement would accelerate in 2005-06 after GSPC's allegiance to Al Qaeda and, more specifically, to the networks led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. During this time flame, French authorities neutralized several networks that, in this context, were planning to perpetrate terrorist attacks in Paris.
Leaving aside for now the possible consequences of the Iranian crisis on the development of a threat that is hard enough to quantify even at this stage, it would seem that several factors will influence how the terrorist threat may evolve. Today's world is made up of several crisis zones: one works its way from the North down to Southeast Asia; one covers the Near and Middle East, including Iran, the Persian Gulf and the Horn of Africa; and another is in Southern Europe.
In this context, the North includes the Caucasus, and the curve spreads across the main Central Asian nations to finish in Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, Indonesia, and, finally, Australia. The epicenter of the threat indisputably is situated in the Pakistan-Afghanistan zone. The extent to which Al Qaeda is taking advantage of the rapidly declining situation in this region is a real source of concern. It is one of the strongest motives for the view that the threat will intensify within this zone.
In Southern Europe, the GSPC has become the "Al Qaeda of North Africa." It is structured as a regional organization since joining forces with Al Qaeda, and its objective is to destabilize the North African countries, provide logistic aid and Mujahadin support to the networks of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and train jihad militants to carry out terrorist attacks in Europe, particularly in France.
France is one of the European nations that has been most affected by terrorism. If, in contrast to Germany, Italy, Great Britain, and now Spain, we have paid a lesser price in terms of victims lost to terrorism, we have been directly in the terrorists' line of fire for some 30 years now. Moreover, we have been attacked by organizations of diverse origins: Palestinian terrorism during the Cold War, separatist movements, "Euro-terrorism," and, now, radical Islamic terrorism.
The series of Palestinian terrorist attacks that hit Paris in 1985-86 persuaded legislators to reform our anti-terrorist measures. The laws passed in September 1986 continue to form the basis of our system, which since has been updated--but without being subjected to profound changes. The originality of this system, which has proven its effectiveness, is to promote an efficient, reactive, and proactive anti-terrorism strategy while respecting our country's fundamental laws. All our resources are put towards our anti-terrorist policy and our methods resolutely are based on prevention of the terrorist risk. The judiciary is the comerstone of our policy and participates actively in this strategy of anticipating threats. We believe that the classic opposition between repression and prevention is outdated, or at least ill-adapted to the present nature of the radical Islamic threat, which simultaneously is globalized, splintered, evolving, and opportunistic in its structure and methods.
French lawmakers and the police services responsible for law enforcement are working closely alongside our intelligence agencies. Operational complementarity between intelligence activities and police work, which requires efficient interaction and interfacing among the procedures of the intelligence services, police, and judiciary, is an indispensable part of a proactive anti-terrorism policy. It nevertheless demands--and this is one of the major obstacles to its success--a strict respect of the different functions and structures, and missions and procedures, of all concerned. The intelligence services must respect the confidentiality of their sources, the secrecy of their methods, and the roles of a third-party service. The justice system must provide legally verified and counter-examined proof and ensure fair trials.
It is possible to rise above the opposing nature of the functions and missions entrusted to these two major elements of a democratic society. This is the case in France, largely thanks to a less burdensome system of legal proof than the Anglo-Saxon model. Another decisive factor in the efficiency of the French system: the centralization of legal proceedings, investigation, sentencing, and imprisonment in connection with terrorist acts. This centralization ensures the specialization of all the judges and attorneys in charge of such cases. Furthermore, they work in close collaboration with specialized police services and our border security and the anti-terrorist National Surveillance Division, the DST.
In support of this strategy of anticipating threats, the law has armed those at the head of our anti-terrorist approach with appropriate legal resources, which are essential for legally neutralizing these networks and prioritize the prevention of the association of the terrorists themselves. This legal framework enables us to neutralize the logistic and financial support networks and thereby stunt the very roots of the threat. French investigative attorneys have the capacity to authorize searches and seizures of goods, telephone or electronic surveillance, and the arresting of suspects (who may be detained for several days). Finally, in certain cases, the law gives them an even greater operational capacity. This strategy allows them to act with a very high degree of reactivity and flexibility, both in terms of their analysis of a situation and their response.
Yet, such a strategy would be destined to fail if it did not prioritize international cooperation. It is clear that the fundamentally transnational nature of this threat demands that the reaction be based on such cooperation. For many years, we have concentrated on promoting international cooperation with our European neighbors, as well as with other partners around the world, the U.S. in particular. Franco-American cooperation is exemplary on this issue. For France and the U.S., it is an essential guiding factor in the war against terrorism considered by both as an overriding priority and the most important threat facing us in the coming millennium.
Jean-Louis Bruguiere is the first vice president of the Tribunal de Grande Instance (Court of Great Claims) in Paris. He is responsible for all terrorism-related matters in the Middle East as they apply to France, and he coordinates all judicial inquiries via France's Investigations Section. Judge Bruguiere is an officer of the National Order of Merit and of the National Order of the Legion of Honor. This article is adapted from a lecture delivered before the French-American Foundation in New York; the transcript of the speech provided by Realite EU.
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|Title Annotation:||International Affairs|
|Publication:||USA Today (Magazine)|
|Date:||May 1, 2007|
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