Fighting Terrorism: No Easy Task

Published on 21st November 2005

Terrorism and terror-related acts have become so predominant that one never knows where these felons with their heinous acts will strike next. Jordan lost over 67 lives and hundreds were maimed when terrorists hit Amman, as a suicide bomber butchered over 35 people in Iraq.

Security analysts had put Jordan as one of the safest countries in the Middle East.  The terrorists were recently in London, where they hit the commuter train facility, killing many. The impact was so forceful that Tony Blair, who was attending the G8-Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, was forced to go home to grieve with his people. They had also been to Turkey, Cairo, Bali among other great cities. As a result of this, a number of countries have adopted and passed anti-terrorism laws. In Britain, Tony Blair pushed for a bill that would have seen terrorism suspects held for up to nine months before commencement of trials. This long period, Labour party had argued, would allow investigators and prosecutors ample time to gather adequate evidence. They lost. 

“Terrorism is widely viewed as violence towards a political end,” says Centre for Defence Information. John Bolton, the US ambassador to the United Nations, argued in a letter to other envoys that any definition of what constitutes a terrorist act should exclude “military activities that are appropriately governed by international humanitarian law.” Maybe he meant the inhuman military operations carried out in Iraq where children and women are casualties. He further argued that limits should be placed on the degree to which government actions such as, bombing civilians – should be considered terrorism.

As such concerns illustrate, many of the differences over any generally acceptable definition of terrorism are related to the identity of both those describing others as terrorists and those being thus described. Other, interrelated issues include the extent to which terrorism is considered a means towards an end as well as the nature of that end.

The presence of internet in the world has made it very simple for terrorists to plan and execute their work with ease. Its use has increased the global reach of many organizations for recruitment purposes as well as for co-ordination of operations.

The traditional mode of hierarchical organization dominated by a central headquarters was already considered outdated, writes US Institute of Peace, adding that they have been replaced by transient cells often connected through cyberspace.

Gabriel Weiman, Senior Fellow at US Institute of Peace, writing on Terror on The Internet: The new Arena the New Challenge says that the Internet allows terrorists to communicate their messages to a global audience quickly, anonymously and without the risks of their messages being censored.

“You can sit in a coffee shop in London, use a server in South Africa, and send messages to North America without anyone being able to trace you,” Weimann stressed. The breaking up of borders and formation of large blocks such as European Union further removed the traditional means to track the movements of known criminals.

Globalization is making geography more of a challenge than ever for counter terrorism efforts but it is also providing more opportunity for improved cross border and transcontinental cooperation.

Weiman, on examining the nature of terrorism on the Internet, says cyberspace has now become a new conflict global arena. By its very nature, the Internet is an ideal arena for activity by terrorist organizations.

Why is it so?

The Internet offers easy access, to little or no regulation censorship or other forms of government control, huge audiences spread throughout the world, anonymity of communication, fast flow of communication, inexpensive, development and ability to combine text, graphics, audio and video that allows users to download films, songs, books and posters and finally the ability to shape coverage in the traditional mass media which increasingly use internet as a source for stories.

Weiman reports that when he began his research in 1998 nearly half of 30 groups designated as foreign terrorists organizations by the US state department maintained web sites. By 2004, all 37 terrorist groups had established their presence on the Internet and most of them presented in more than one form including those that cater for special groups such as children.

Terrorists use the Internet for psychological warfare, publicity and propaganda, to generate supporters, network between different terrorist groups, share information, plan and coordinate cyber wars and cyber terrorism. Weiman found several examples of more typical uses of the Internet by terrorists, such as a web site run by Hezbolla with downloadable games for children, and two distinct Tamil Tigers websites tailored to a local and an international audience.

 As the press uses photo videos and statements found on terrorist groups’ websites, writes Weiman, the Internet has become a tool to spread terrorist messages through the traditional mass media. This provides terrorists with a cheaper alternative to mass print material or operate their own radio stations.

In closing his report, Weiman warns that efforts to fight the war against online terrorism should not overshadow the potential benefits of the Internet to the international community.



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