by Mervyn Bendle
December 01, 2008
THE terrorist attacks in Mumbai occurred just two months after the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad was devastated by a huge truck bomb, and trials of terrorists in Britain and Australia revealed plans for atrocities in those countries.
Taken together, these events reveal radical changes in the strategy of the global jihad movement as it shifts its focus from the hard military targets of the "near enemy" in Afghanistan or Iraq, to the "far enemy" represented by soft targets such as the private citizens of democratic societies such as the US, Britain, and Australia, especially where they can be found in countries such as India, Pakistan, or Indonesia.
It is vital that the people of Western societies and their political representatives recognise that this new phase constitutes an evolution of the global terrorist campaign into fourth-generation warfare.
In this phase the distinctions between war and politics, peace and conflict, and military and civilians are blurred so that wars can proceed in an undeclared manner, in accordance with Ayman al-Zawahiri's description of the Islamist approach to war, which he ascribes to the prophet Mohammed: "War is deceit (and) triumph is achieved (through) deception."
Such conflict places a high value on propaganda, supported by high-profile terrorist atrocities, and is based on small terrorist cells practising "the jihad of individual terrorism", involving particularly savage acts such as the mass attacks in Mumbai.
Cells can be raised by al-Qa'ida or its affiliates, including rogue elements from highly experienced and well-resourced intelligence services, such as the Inter-Services Intelligence in Pakistan. Alternatively, they can be self-recruiting, self-radicalising, and self-training, supported by jihadi instructional and ideological material provided within a radically de-centralised network that makes maximum use of the internet, as we have seen in Britain and Australia.
The shift in global jihad strategy from the near enemy to the far enemy was signalled in an interview given by the leader of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, and posted on the web in October 2008. Apparently claiming responsibility for recent terrorist plots in Glasgow and London, he declared that "all the countries that participated in the hostility against Iraq and their crimes against our people are a legitimate target for us, no matter how long it takes".
At the time, the British Security Minister warned that Britain faced a huge terrorist threat and "large, complex plots", while British security forces were monitoring "another great plot". A British Government intelligence report leaked to the media concluded that Britain will remain "a high-priority target" for international jihadi terrorism into the foreseeable future. It states that there are several thousand active extremists in Britain, including British nationals, Muslim converts, Britain-based foreign terrorists, and foreign terrorists attacking from abroad. They are predominantly male, aged between 18 and 30, and many have received training in overseas terrorist camps.
This situation is also acute across Europe, as David Kilcullen, Australia's leading counter-insurgency expert concludes: "Europe faces threats including al-Qa'ida-inspired terrorism, extremist political parties, insurgent sympathiser networks, subversive movements, and the overlap between crime and terrorism."
It is now clear that jihadi terrorists have the capability to attack Westerners both within their societies and internationally, where they gather for business or tourism.
Australia is not immune.Key members of the Abdul Nacer Benbrika terror cell in Melbourne were convicted in September 2008 over their plans for mass terror attacks. These included using huge bombs in "an attack that would kill 1000 people", at railway stations, Crown Casino, and football matches, including the 2005 AFL grand final.
In a related case, an adviser of Benbrika allegedly "pledged personally to Osama bin Laden to pursue violent jihad while he was undertaking paramilitary training in Afghanistan", and returned to Australia with a "large library" of al-Qa'ida material, including a video called Such are the Messengers Tested that he allegedly helped make for al-Qa'ida.
Similarly, a Sydney man was convicted of terrorism offences in September 2008, over the preparation of a training jihadi manual, The Provision on the Rules of Jihad - Short Judicial Rulings and Organisational Instructions for Fighters and Mujaheddin against Infidels. The first half of the book "concentrated on religious teachings and rulings about jihad, while the rest of the book canvassed reasons, benefits and methods of assassinations". Countries on the hit list included Australia and the US.
The rapid development of the global jihad movement since September 11 reveals that there are ample recruits to the cause, and indeed another recent study, focusing on suicide bombers, has identified a "transnational neo-umma", or global Muslim community, peopled by multilingual university students "who see the West as evil incarnate - sinful and pernicious - a mythical unity that legitimises the use of blind violence against it".
Of particular concern are the apparently successful efforts by jihadist groups to radicalise and recruit high-value, tertiary-educated personnel, especially doctors, but also scientists, and other university-trained professionals.
Excellent examples of this phenomenon are the two doctors charged over the Glasgow airport bomb attack and a failed attack on a London nightclub involving car bombs packed with gas canisters, petrol and nails: one is a junior house doctor at the Royal Alexandra Hospital and the other is a neurologist at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire.
Alleged links between the jihadis involved in these attacks and two doctors in Australia have not yet been properly clarified, amid reports that police found "a variety of jihadist material" in an Indian Muslim doctor's Queensland Gold Coast apartment; and that "audio files of lectures advocating terrorism by an author linked to al-Qa'ida were also found on (his) laptop".
Underlying these developments is a profound demographic reality, with estimates that there may already be some 150 million Islamists amid a rapidly expanding global Muslim population of 1.3 billion. Even if only a tiny proportion turns to jihadism and terrorism, then the West and the world have a massive problem that will persist throughout the century.
Australia is fortunate that it has rigorous counter-terrorism laws and the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation, and other competent and energetic security agencies.
Despite the criticism that such laws and agencies attract, the Mumbai atrocity shows why they are necessary.
Mervyn F. Bendle is senior lecturer in history and communications at James Cook University.