The Islamic State and ‘New Terrorism’

Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It's a tactic... We're not going to win the war on terrorism. General William Odom, US Army, on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal programme, November 2002   Growing Influence of ISIS Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s self-proclaimed Islamic Caliphate – alsocalled ISIS, ISIL and Daesh – has claimed responsibility for the multiple terror strikes across Paris on November 13, 2015, in which almost 150 civilians were killed and over 300 were seriously injured.

 Two weeks ago, on October 31st, ISIS had claimed that it had brought down an Airbus aircraft of the Russian airliner Metrojet soon after it took off from the Sinai resort of Sharm al-Sheikh on a flight to St. Petersburg. All 224 people on board the plane were killed. The ISIS brand of fundamentalist terrorism is spreading gradually beyond West Asia. In Africa, ISIS fighters have been active in Algeria, Libya, South Sudan and Tunisia in recent months. Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group in Nigeria, has pledged allegiance to ISIS. As if to prove that their tentacles run wide, on a single day in the last week of June 2015, terrorists owing allegiance to the Islamic Statestruck targets across three continents in France, Kuwait and Tunisia and left many people dead and wounded.   Al-Baghdadi has openly proclaimed the intention of ISIS to expand eastwards to establish the Islamic state of Khorasan that will include Afghanistan, the Central Asian Republics, eastern Iran and Pakistan. The final battle, Ghazwa-e-Hind – a term from Islamic mythology – will be fought to extend the caliphate to India. An ISIS branch has already been established in the Indian Sub-continent. It is led by Muhsin al Fadhli and is based somewhere in Pakistan. Some factions of the TTP have declared their allegiance to Al-Baghdadi. 

The ISIS briefly captured a few districts in Afghanistan'sNangarhar province and National Security Adviser, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, has said the militia’s presence is growing. And, some ISIS flags have been seen sporadically in Srinagar.   Age of ‘New Terrorism’   The ISIS militia comprises ultra-hardline Sunni fighters. Its leadership’s ideologyis so primitive and barbaric that Osama bin Laden is reported to have declined to have anything to do with them when they had approached him.

 The video-taped beheading of three innocent hostages, released on social media, exemplified its brutality.The ISIS militia has proved itself adept at fighting simultaneously on multiple fronts. Not surprisingly, the ISIS has carried the war into cyberspace and is deftly exploiting the Internet as an effective propaganda tool to spread its message. It is using Facebook and bulletin boards to influence the minds of Muslim youth and gain recruits. The international community has not yet found an answer to this potent threat.   The age of ‘new terrorism’ began well before the ISIS militia began its vicious campaign in Iraq and Syria. It hit India with the Mumbai serial bomb attacks of March 1993, in the same year when a group of Islamist extremists led by Ramzi Yousef had launched the first attack on the World Trade Centre in New York. In 1995, Aum Shinrikyo attacked the Tokyo underground with Sarin gas. Soon after that, a large truck bomb killed 168 people in Oklahoma City and visions of apocalypse through terrorism began to haunt the world. The London and Madrid train bombings further heightened the pervasive fear psychosis. 

Walter Laqueur, the well-known terrorism historian, wrote in 1999 that the character of terrorism was assuming catastrophic proportions and changing in a revolutionary manner. “Rather than the vicious yet calculated application of violence that everyone had become familiar with, the world was now confronted with terrorists whose aim was ‘to liquidate all satanic forces [and destroy] all life on earth’.” Key Patterns The September 11, 2001, attacks were a catastrophic confirmation of a major shift in the trend lines of transnational terrorism and the multiple terror strikes in Mumbai in November 2008 provided further proof of a new form of terrorism.

 There is now ready agreement that the age of ‘new terrorism’ is well and truly upon us. However, ‘new terrorism’ is in many ways still a catchphrase that heralds change as no clear understanding of its characteristics is as yet forthcoming. Even as the world attempts to enhance its understanding of what exactly has changed, four key patterns can be clearly discerned. Firstly, modern terrorist organisations are both diffuse and opaque in nature. They have cellular structures that resemble networks, rather than a clearly demarcated chain of command. Secondly, they are increasingly more transnational in their geographical spread, with shifting centres of gravity and constantly changing recruitment bases. 

Thirdly, their ideological motivations are driven by religious fundamentalism and they seek to achieve their political objectives through radical extremism even though no religion justifies violent means. Fourthly, modern terrorism is far more violent than ‘old’ terrorism. In the mid-to-late-20th century, terrorist organisation wanted “a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead”

 but this has changed and they now wish to inflict horrendous casualties so that they can impose their will on governments and societies. Peter R. Neumann has written: “Regardless of whether governments are dealing with ‘old’ or ‘new’, the aim must be to prevent terrorist attacks whilst maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of the population. In doing so, governments need to ‘harden’ potential targets; develop good intelligence in order to disrupt terrorist structures; bring to bear the full force of the law whilst acting within the law; address legitimate grievances where they can be addressed; and, not least, convey a sense of calm and determination when communicating with the public.” This prescription cannot be faulted and policy planners across the world would well to draw up a counter-terrorism policy on these lines as part of a comprehensive national security strategy. The defeat and disbandment of the ISIS militia, in particular, merit the international community’s immediate attention – or else, General William Odom, quoted above, will be proved right. Views expressed by the author are personal.The author is former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies.