With a grim face, President George W. Bush declared war on terrorism and General Colin Powell, his Secretary of State, lost no time in pointing a finger at Osama bin Laden as the primary suspect. In striking at the heart of US capitalism and national security, Osama bin Laden, perhaps the preeminent organiser and financier of international terrorism today, has probably signed his own death warrant - and that of hundreds to innocent men, women and children who will undoubtedly die in the collateral damage when the US forces launch massive air and ground strikes to hunt him down.
On September 11, 2001, millions of television viewers watched in horror as first one and then the second tower of the World Trade Centre in New York went crashing down after two civilian airliners loaded with aviation fuel were used as flying bombs. A third Boeing aircraft was used as a battering ram to bring down one wing of the Pentagon. Horrified viewers clearly saw the ominous message of the power of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism in the menacing smoke billowing up from the devastated buildings. Terrorism, a late 20th Century scourge, had struck again and the world could only look on with impotent rage.
With a grim face, President George W. Bush declared war on terrorism and General Colin Powell, his Secretary of State, lost no time in pointing a finger at Osama bin Laden as the primary suspect. Never before had the world’s only superpower singled out an individual as the enemy of the state. And, never before had a terrorist leader declared a jehad (holy war) against a nation as powerful as the United States (US). (In 1998, bin Laden had declared it a holy duty to kill all “Americans and their allies, civilian and military… in any country in which it is possible to do it.”) In striking at the heart of US capitalism and national security, Osama bin Laden, perhaps the preeminent organiser and financier of international terrorism today, has probably signed his own death warrant — and that of hundreds to innocent men, women and children who will undoubtedly die in the collateral damage when the US forces launch massive air and ground strikes to hunt him down.
Osama bin Laden is not alone in his battle against the West. Numerous Islamist organisations are engaged in a jehad against what they perceive as a decadent civilisation. Many scholars have painstakingly documented the complex linkages between various terrorist organisations and their methods of raising finance. Most of ‘these terrorist organisations use ingenious money laundering techniques for their nefarious activities by exploiting .the international banking system. Narcotics smuggling plays a major role in raising funds for jehaada and the poppy fields of Afghanistan are a tailor made source. Quite obviously, it is not merely the safe haven provided by the obscurantist Taliban that attracts bin Laden to Afghanistan.
The reach and power of the terrorist groups, the efficiency of their intelligence organisations, the sophistication of their training systems and expertise in handling explosives, their high levels of religious motivation and, above all, the unbelievable coordination in their international operations, have been seen by the world in gruesome detail. Osama bin Laden and his cohorts have also been exploiting the diabolical potential of sponsored terrorism by using the resources of some rogue states while ensuring that these states are able to retain a veneer of deniability. So far there has been virtually no organised response from Western democracies due to their relative indifference to the burgeoning threat and the inherent limitations of democratic values that stipulate that a state Cannot act as a terrorist.
The story of Osama bin Laden’s rise to international notoriety is increasingly becoming better known. Hailing from a wealthy family with business interests in the booming construction industry, bin Laden was for long a loyal subject of the House of the Saudi ruling dynasty. He was a hero of the Afghanistan resistance of the 1980s against Soviet occupation and was deeply disturbed by Saudi Arabia’s decision to let the troops of the US-led Coalition Forces operate from Saudi soil against Iraqi forces in Kuwait in the 1990-91 Gulf War. He was even more concerned when the Saudi government allowed the Us troops to stay on permanently after the war. “He and other militant Islamists considered Riyadh’s capitulation to American pressure a transgression of the sacred principles of Islam’ and decided to fight the Americans. Osama bin Laden soon became a fugitive from justice and sought exile in Sudan along with his family.
At this time, Sudan had become Hassan al-Turabi’s new haven of Islamic revivalism. In Sudan, Osama bin Laden offered his experience as an Islamist fighter and his considerable business skills to further the cause of Islam. He is also known to have unhesitatingly used his own funds to supplement the finances of Islamist International and its terrorist arm, the Armed Islamic movement SAIM). Both the organisations are devoted to supporting Islamic liberation struggles all over the world and have bases and support facilities in Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Most of the fund transfers for terrorist activities were effected through branches of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) that collapsed in July 1991. Osama bin Laden then organised a virtually foolproof system of. clandestine Fund transfers by creating a new entity called the ‘Brotherhood Group’ Chat utilises the legal bank accounts of 134 rich Arabs of the Persian Gulf states in western banks.
During the early 1990s, the Islamist terrorist organisations continued to expand and improve their networks. Besides Osama bin Laden, now a respected Islamist leader, the other kingpins of the Sunni Islamist movement included Hassan al Turabi, Osama’s friend Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and Afghanistan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Together these Islamist leaders created a loose organisation called the ‘Afghan Arab Mujahideen’, the core of which comprised approximately 800 Egyptians, 700 Algerians, 400 Tunisians, 370 Iraqis, 300 Yemenis, 200 Libyans, 150 Sudanese, 100 Persian Gulf Arabs and 70 Europeans by mid-1993. These jehadis operated as a Global unifying factor for militant Islam. Another close partner is Imad Mughniyeh who heads the Lebanese Hizbullah’s overseas operations. The World Trade Centre and Pentagon bombing is likely to have been a combined operation orchestrated by all these terrorist organisations together. It was too large in its scope to have been the handiwork of any one of them alone.
From Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya in the north to Sudan and sub-Saharan Africa in the south, from Libya and Algeria in the west, through the Middle East, Irag, Iran, the Central Asian Republics, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir in the east, the strident march of virulent Islamist fundamentalism has shaken the world. With the launching of anti-American Islamist terrorism, in retaliation for US support to Israel and the continued US bombing of Iraq, terrorist incidents have become commonplace in the West too. The car bomb attack on the Khobar Towers barracks of the US troops in Saudi Arabia resulted in the deaths of more soldiers than all the casualties suffered by the US and Coalition Forces during the entire Gulf War. The mid-air explosion of TWA flight 800 was also attributed to Islamist terrorist organisations, as was the bombing of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in 1998.
Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and its sister organisations are now known to be engaged in making efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The next attack may be through chemical or biological weapons. Though air and ground strikes against suspected terrorist hideouts are inevitable, the real need of the hour is for concerted international efforts to pool together all available counter-terrorism resources, including real-time intelligence sharing, to first contain and then gradually eliminate all the organisations involved in fomenting Islamist and other forms of terrorism. This legacy of the century of violence must not be allowed to paralyse life in the new millennium.