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A World Challenged Fighting Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century
By Yevgeny M. Primakov
Brookings Institution Press Copyright © 2004 Brookings Institution Press
All right reserved.
Chapter One Terrorism: A Terrible Force Unleashed on the World
It is a horrific sight. September 11, 2001. CNN Live is showing amateur video of an airliner slicing into one of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, the commercial heart of New York City. The broadcast was replayed around the globe. Before people could begin to make sense of what they were seeing-like most, my first thought had been that it was some kind of terrible air disaster-we heard the shocked voice of a commentator shouting, "A second plane has hit the other tower!" The world witnessed flames erupting and flowing across the building's facade. As one tower became gray from smoke and soot, the first crumbled to the ground. Thousands of people in the towers that morning perished.
Simultaneously, yet another plane slammed into the Pentagon, in Arlington,Virginia, and a fourth plane hijacked by terrorists crashed in Pennsylvania without reaching its target-probably the White House or the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
It was the most significant terrorist act in history. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedies, most if not all clear-thinking people were naturally seized by grief and compassion for the Americans as they coped with their losses, and they felt only rage toward the monsters who had perpetrated this horror. Yet the painful emotional shock has begun to heal, and now the time has come for thoughtful reflection. Careful analysis is crucial, for the events of September 11 have begun to proliferate. The signature form of mass-casualty suicide terrorism has surfaced elsewhere, such as in Bali, Indonesia, where a criminal act claimed two hundred lives. Another link in this chain was perpetrated when terrorists took eight hundred hostages in Moscow on October 25, 2002, and prepared to execute them. A Russian special forces unit brilliantly thwarted the attempt, but more than one hundred people still lost their lives.
From Regicide to Mass Acts of Terrorism
Many equate any violent act that is inappropriate or "out of place" with terrorism. In reality, terrorism is a specific form of political activity that seeks to achieve its ends by assassinating political figures or targeting a civilian population. It has occurred since ancient times. But this book will focus on terrorism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as an aid to understanding contemporary terrorism in its most virulent form, as witnessed by all on September 11, 2001.
Terrorism in its modern form developed during the second half of the nineteenth century, often as an outgrowth of utopian anarchist or nationalist movements. The targets of these terrorist acts were government officials or heads of state. In Russia during this period, Vera Zasulich shot St. Petersburg's governor general, Dmitry Trepov (1876); Sophia Perovskaya and Andrei Zhelyabov formed the group responsible for the death of Tsar Alexander II (1881); and Ivan Kalyaev, a Socialist Revolutionary, threw a bomb at the carriage carrying Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich, governor general of Moscow, in 1905. World War I began as a result of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. King Alexander I of Yugoslavia and French foreign minister Louis Barthou were both assassinated in 1934 in Marseilles.
Political assassinations continued during the second half of the twentieth century: President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963; Spanish prime minister Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco was killed in 1973 by Basque separatists; Lord Louis Mountbatten by the Irish Republican Army in 1979; Egyptian president Anwar Sadat by Islamist conspirators; Indian prime minister Indira Ghandi by Sikh separatists in 1984; and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by Jewish extremists in 1995. Over time, however, terrorists have moved away from targeting individual leaders in favor of striking at masses of the civilian populace. The release of sarin gas in the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo terrorist network in 1995 is one such example.
In the second half of the twentieth century, terrorism took on two further characteristics. First, it became primarily a tool of religious and political groups with separatist or extremist agendas. As such, it was widely used by leftist extremist organizations like the Red Brigades, for example, who used terror tactics against "the powerful of this world" in their quest to overthrow capitalism. Initially, terrorism was largely a national matter. The Basque separatists of Spain (ETA) or Egypt's religious extremists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, had ties to similar organizations abroad, but their terrorist strikes were largely confined to their own countries. Aum Shinrikyo, though its network spread across many countries, nonetheless carried out its terrorist acts at home in Japan. This has also begun to change. Contemporary terrorism has acquired such a broad international reach that it has become a global concern.
All of these developments can be observed in the rise and development of Russia's own homegrown terrorist movements grouped around Chechen separatists. Chechen terrorist violence was directed toward civilian populations in central and southern Russia-Moscow, St. Petersburg, Budennovsk, Cherkassk, Pervomaisk, Armavir, Vladikavkaz, Mineral'nye Vody, and other cities-and has claimed the lives of several hundred innocent civilians, including children, women, and the elderly. Just as the situation in Chechnya had begun to stabilize-no small achievement-Chechen rebels took their terrorism outside the region and started to strike at those Chechens who actively supported the Russian Federation.
Chechen separatists have extensive ties to terrorist organizations abroad. They have learned by example how to mobilize and distribute extensive terrorist resources through an international network from one country to another: many Chechen field commanders received training at camps in Afghanistan; Arab "volunteers" take part in terrorist acts in Russia; and Chechen fighters have been, and apparently still are, found in the ranks of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization.
The Rise of "Independent" Terrorism
In some cases, international terrorism arose and grew in tandem with particular states and state structures. Iran during the period immediately after the shah's overthrow was typical: the official policy of the nascent Islamic republic was to forcibly export its revolution abroad.
By the end of the twentieth century, however, with the end of the cold war, terrorism had begun to shed its connection to state or government structures. Certain terrorist groups continued to enjoy a degree of state support, but overall this support sharply declined. The decline has largely been the result of policies carried out by the leading international players-Russia, Europe, and the United States-as they emerged from the cold war and began to work together to end state sponsorship of terrorism. The United States relied mainly on political pressure, sanctions, and even the use of force. Russia espoused a more balanced approach consisting primarily of political measures, and many countries, including European Union (EU) member states, have taken the same approach.
Such efforts have borne fruit. Libya, which during the 1980s was considered to be one of the leading state sponsors of terrorism, is no longer providing financial support and training facilities to terrorist groups. As director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (FIS), I was sent to Tripoli to help facilitate this change in Libyan policy. I had fruitful discussions with Libyan leaders, and I know how effective my European colleagues were in this area as well. In the mid- to late 1990s, Muammar Qaddafi broke off relations with the Italian Red Brigades and with the IRA. He expelled the Abu Nidal terrorist organization and severed relations with two extremist Palestinian groups: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Libya also expelled individuals suspected of terrorism and who had worked to overthrow or undermine regimes in Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan.
The United States also played a significant role in Libya's change. In return for Libya's extradition of two Libyan citizens accused in the 1989 Lockerbie Pan Am bombing (which claimed 270 lives, including 189 Americans), the United States agreed to let Libya choose the procedure and venue of the trial. The trial was conducted not in the United States or Great Britain, as the United States had first insisted, but in The Hague at the end of January 2001. In turn, such constructive efforts led Libya to support the U.S. antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan and encouraged Qaddafi to pay compensation to the families of those who perished in the Lockerbie bombing.
During the 1990s several positive changes also took place in Iran. The sympathies of the Iranian people began to shift away from the religious center in Qum and toward Mohammad Khatami, a more moderate spiritual leader known for his restraint. Khatami had spoken out against supporting extremism in society, religion, and foreign policy. He was in favor of reform and freedom of the press. That change had come to Iran was made clear when Khatami won the presidential election by a wide margin and when the 2000 Majlis elections brought reform-minded leaders into the parliamentary majority. Primarily because of the shift in popular opinion, Iran has ceased to use forceful means to spread its religion-based model of state and society to other countries in the region.
Russia and the EU also played a constructive role with respect to Iran by maintaining policies supporting positive domestic development in Iran and reducing Iran's isolation from the rest of the world.
Changes in the attitudes of leading U.S. politicians toward Iran took place during the final years of the Clinton administration. I sensed this during the many discussions I had on Iran with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In a March 2000 speech, she underscored the importance of the new positive relations between the United States and Iran and called for an open, clean-slate dialogue between the two countries. At this point the United States' European allies were already engaged in active "critical dialogue" with Iran.
Albright's call was not taken up by the Bush administration. Nevertheless, Bush's policies had sustained a positive note, despite the complexity of Iran's domestic politics. Thus Iran-even though no one seemed to notice-supported the U.S. action in Afghanistan from the very beginning and contributed to U.S. military success in those areas of Afghanistan where it had influence.
Despite these positive trends, the United States became more sharply critical of Iran. Rather abruptly, the Bush administration identified Iran as one of the next possible targets for U.S. antiterrorist action after Afghanistan. This had a counterproductive effect: the moderate and radical-traditionalist factions in Iran began to come closer together. In response to Israeli armed military action in the Palestinian Authority, Hezbollah, supported by Tehran, immediately stepped up its artillery attacks on Israeli-controlled northern Galilee from Lebanon.
But the general trend in the early years of the twenty-first century has been for terrorist groups to become less closely tied to governments. The events of September 11 clearly demonstrated a new, more dangerous kind of international terrorism: criminal acts committed by a self-sufficient group, unaffiliated with any kind of national government, that result in the loss of thousands of innocent lives. This type of terrorist group burst onto the international scene as an entirely new kind of actor.
Until now, the course of international affairs had been dictated by the actions of states-alliances and wars, cooperation and confrontation. In other words, the international climate was a result of the relations between individual states or groups of states and the rise and fall of their alliances. The contemporary international system was defined by state actors and the official international organizations that they created. Now this model is obsolete.
If the organization that had committed this act of terrorism against the United States had been affiliated with any government at all in the Near East, Middle East, Africa, or Southeast Asia, at least one of the leading intelligence agencies in the world-Russia's FIS, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Britain's MI6, Germany's Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND, Federal Intelligence Service), or their counterparts in France, China, India, or another country-would have known about the connection. It is difficult to imagine any Middle Eastern country whose governmental workings are so thoroughly shielded from foreign intelligence services that the latter would have no inside sources of information at all. I cannot imagine that any intelligence service in the world would not have passed on to the Americans information it might have had regarding any potential catastrophic terrorist act on American soil. I make this statement on the basis of years of personal experience as head of the Russian FIS.
Moreover, the state connection would have been uncovered because it is clear that preparations for the criminal acts committed on September 11 took place over a long period. According to David Sedney, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, the terrorists began to gather forces in the United States two years earlier. They began to build up financial resources, and the individual hijackers trained to pilot commercial passenger aircraft. Not just anyone is granted access to such training, and not just anyone is competent to complete it. If nothing else, falsified documentation had to be created that would not raise suspicions-a specialized and painstaking process. Individuals with good documentation were able to travel freely and unnoticed from country to country.
The support of many individuals was required to plan and execute this operation. Several airline terminals were infiltrated, and baggage security checkpoints were breached. At least four airliners were simultaneously hijacked with their passengers; additional hijackings may have been planned. The hijackers evaded radar tracking and made synchronized strikes against predetermined targets. This entire effort took place with no appreciable leak of information. A criminal organization of this magnitude must certainly be quite powerful, well networked, financially secure, and autonomous.
The FBI and other U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating alleged members of this organization, which the United States determined to be led by Osama bin Laden, a Saudi multimillionaire who was living in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban regime.
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