In dealing with terrorists, state and local law enforcement agencies should first know intimately who terrorist are so that they can be vigilant in detecting potential terrorists. They have to ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of terrorists organizations in terms of their capability to blend with the local population; the external support that they muster; and the community support or rejection of their activities. Meanwhile to ultimately address the issue of terrorism, we have to examine the roots of terrorism and analyze why they do what they do. Thereby we can address their main issues in a peaceful way while maintaining community vigilance.
The threat of terrorism is not confined to one place, area, or country alone. Terrorism knows no boundaries. It does not exempt any person, group of people or a particular area in its objective to spread fear, intimidation and destruction. The government is very aware of this and with its primary objective to protect its people from any disruption in their everyday life, it is doing everything to combat and prevent any terrorist acts.
Any government’s policy regarding terrorism will not be successful without the help of other groups in which, being in the grassroots level, they are essential in finding and identifying potential targets and capturing terrorists. Herein lies the strength or weakness of any terrorist organization-its integration with the local populace. The local government, with the local law enforcement under its jurisdiction, is vital because of its familiarity with the local environment and also with its easier identification with the people under its watch. This identification will help them in providing information on potential terrorists in their area or suspected targets for terrorist acts.
Terrorism can be seen as an act which involved the use of unconventional (and usually illegal) means to achieve a primary objective. There is usually terror involved and this is usually being addressed to the government and its people to provide fear and to coerce them into providing them their demands. This is usually being made by groups as their last resort in obtaining their objectives, usually being political, economic and/or religious in nature (McCormack, 2007).
Terrorism can be combated better with the prevention of terrorists from obtaining their goals. In preventing this, one should first know who is or can be a terrorist, since one cannot act on it if he does not know if this terrorist is present in the area. Knowing a terrorist requires one to be familiar with its objectives, along with his state and frame of mind, and their tactics (Nance 2008). By knowing these, one can now predict the movements of a potential terrorist, along with its potential targets, either facilities, buildings or the people themselves. The government will also be able to alert its law enforcement agencies to provide surveillance and background checks on suspected terrorists.
An example of this is the discovery by the United States government of a plot to bomb the New York subway. One of the main suspects, Najibullah Zazi, later admitted that he plans to detonate a bomb using beauty products. His arrest (and cooperation) later netted other suspects for being his accomplices for the bombing of the subway. The government’s success in this arrest primarily came from uncovering what is inside the mind of Zazi. His movements in the United States raised suspicions from the authorities which in turn conducted background checks on him. Their suspicions were justified by discovering that he was lately became a more devout Muslim. Aside from this are his suspected travels to Peshawar, Pakistan supposedly to visit his wife (Wilson, 2009). The city is long suspected to be a breeding ground for Islamic militants. This uncovering of the plot showed a great factor in determining a terrorist’s objective and his driving force in committing the said act. It can be said that the authorities may have already establish a pattern in which many Islamic terrorists more or less undergone the said process in their life similarly as Zazi did.
In the said example above, one can also notice that terrorists can be weakened if it cannot adapt to its environment. This can be said on the fact that for being a terrorist, one should be mobile, undetected, and cannot be traced even by modern technology. Since the experience in 9/11 the United States government poured its resources in combating terrorism, from upgrading the of technology in preventing terrorist acts (airport security, surveillance equipments etc.) to providing funds, equipments and training to other countries to help combat terrorism in their areas (Walker, 2006). In these acts of the American government, as well as other governments in the world, it can be noticed that the terrorist groups were somehow slow in adapting in this new environment. It can be primarily observed that since 2001, there have been no other terrorist acts as big as the one that happened during 9/11 (Gearty, 2003). Aside from this, numerous plots have been prevented which could have been damaging not only to the country but also for the people as well. Also, terrorist groups and terror suspects have been dismantled, captured or killed. These preventions was mainly due to the diligence of the authorities but it cannot also be denied that the inability to adjust and to shift their style by the terrorists enabled them to achieving only minimal success, if not being foiled, in their plans and objectives.
A success of a terrorist can also be attributed to the support it has, whether it is financial, moral and/or political. Primarily a plot will not succeed without the resources it needed (knowledge on making a bomb, materials for making and detonating of the bomb etc.). These resources will not be present without the financial support which is mainly provided by a terrorist group and/or a sponsor country. In analyzing the successful acts of terrorism made in the world, this would have not been achieved without the support of a group or institution/s. Aside from 9/11, it can be seen in other incidents like the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 (Lockerbie bombing) in 1988 and the Tokyo subway gas attack in 1995, just to name a few, that a great part in their success is the financial (and political) backing of a group (or a country) in supporting their objectives.
By cutting their support for these acts and/or dismantling their main support group, such acts or any related incidents will be greatly reduced, if not being prevented altogether. In the stated examples, the Libyan government finally extradited one of its officials involved in the Lockerbie bombing (he was later found guilty in 2001 but was later released due to health reasons). Sanctions imposed by the United Nations and the United States, imposed in the wake of the bombings to punish Libya, were later lifted after the said extradition and also for admitting responsibility to the said incident (el-Qaddafi, 2009). In the Tokyo gas attack, the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo was found out to be the behind it. Japanese authorities raided the cult’s headquarters and other safe houses and found out chemicals used in the gas attack. They also arrested the leader of the cult Shoko Asahara and were later sentenced to death in 2004 for the said incident (Onishi, 2004). From the said examples, it can be seen that by cutting the main financers and main organizers of the terror groups involved, they will not be able to successfully initiate terror acts.
Support of the people in the grassroots level, aside from those of groups and institutions (and countries), are also vital in the continuing success of a terrorist. Primarily, they will be able to help a would-be terrorist, of the basic resources it needed to hide itself from the authorities and at the same time in planning and executing his plans. By providing him with shelter (or safe house) and protection from authorities being suspicious of him, he will be able to concentrate on the execution of his plans. These people are usually kin of the terrorist, and/or sharing the same ethnic or religious group. This set-up is basically present in areas where one group (ethnic, religious etc.) is being neglected and/or being taken for granted by its government. People obviously will support actions which will be beneficial to their group, and doing acts of terrorism can be seen as desperate moves for their problems to be taken into notice. An example of this is the Israeli-Palestinian problem, in which the drive for Palestinian statehood is being opposed by the Israeli government. Islamic groups have since conducted suicide bombings in the Israel-Palestinian areas killing and injuring thousands.
The Israelis in turn, conducted raids to the Palestinian areas to capture suspected militants, though at times many of those being captured are not militants, they were also able to arrest terrorists and also able to prevent future terror acts from happening again (Hammer, 2002). In this example, the said situation can be seen as being solved mainly through political means, in which at present negotiations are being held between Israeli and Palestinian officials for the continuation of peace talks. Both groups should be able to minimize (if not completely put on stop) terrorist acts in the region through mutual cooperation, as evidenced in their past agreements. With this mutual cooperation, in which the Palestinians would be able to help the Israelis in capturing militants in exchange for the easing of their restrictions inside Israel and eventually, the granting of a Palestinian state, terrorist acts would be irrelevant in their goal for a future Palestinian state (D. H., Jonathan, 2002). By being able to achieve the main objective of the Palestinian people, that is, the eventual state of Palestine, the people’s support for militant groups will eventually decrease, making them irrelevant to their cause.
- Summary of Findings
By way of summary, the strengths or the weaknesses of any terrorist organization can be assessed by considering the following factors:
- Ability to blend with the local populace
If a member of a terrorist organization was able to blend with its environment and particularly with the local populace, he will not attract the attention of the authorities. On the other hand, if he was not able to integrate well with the community, he will be easily subject to community surveillance and police vigilance.
- External Support
The external support of any terrorist organization is its lifeline. This is where the organization gets finances, supplies, and whatever is needed to successfully launch a terrorist attack.
- Community Support
The strength of the support of the community for or against any terrorist or terrorist organization is a very important factor to consider.
Terrorists have their own objectives in doing their acts and these objectives should also be present in our law enforcement groups to be able for them to provide answers and programs to prevent the obtaining of such. Addressing their main concerns will also of big help not only in making them realize and/or re-evaluate their motives, but also in defeating altogether what drives them to do such acts. Cooperation and strengthening the agencies in the government (through upgrading of facilities, intelligence etc.) and the people in general is vital in preventing terrorist acts from being made. Any terrorist acts will have its difficulty to succeed because of this cooperation, strengthening the people’s vigilance and at the same time the government making sure its people will be protected by these acts.
- H., Jonathan (2002). Understanding the Breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations”
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (website) http://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp486.htm
El-Qaddafi, Saif al-Islam (2009). “No ‘Hero’s Welcome’ in Libya” The New York Times August
Gearty, Conor (2003). “The Weakness of al-Qaeda” The Guardian July 20, 2003. (website)
Hammer, Joshua (2002). “A Shark Hunt in the Night” Newsweek July 15, 2002
McCormack, Wayne. (2007). Understanding the Law of Terrorism. LexisNexis/Matthew
Nance, Malcolm W. (2008). Terrorist Recognition Handbook (2nd ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC
Press-Taylor and Francis Group
Onishi, Norimitsu (2004). “After 8-Year Trial in Japan, Cultist is Sentenced to Death” The New
York Times February 28, 2004
Walker, David M. (2006). Global War on Terrorism: Observations on Funding, Costs and
Future Commitments. Government Accountability Office. July 18, 2006 (pdf)
Wilson, Michael (2009). “From Smiling Coffee Vendor to Terror Suspect” The New York Times
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