I was down on both knees, intelligently peering into a lock of unknown origin, debating “drill, mica, lump hammer or go home and lie down in a darkened room?” when the locked-out lady of the house said: “You understand things about security (at last – recognition!), how do you stop terrorism?”
Sadly, I cannot apply my own security experience to this appalling method of recognition and revenge. Would that I could plonk a magnetic contact on the gates of a city, or place a passive infrared detector into a school or a railway station to detect and prevent the recent and most dreadful events of those with a misguided mission.
The Russian town of Beslan, in Northern Ossetia, has become the latest victim of what I call ‘new terrorism’. Arguably, terrorism came into focus after World War II. It emerged in different colonies across the Middle East, Asia and Africa, when particular groups began to resist colonial rule and the myth of European invincibility was severely dented following the war. Such anti-colony groups were run on military lines and operated from defined areas, like Indo-China where the fight was against the French colonists. At the same time there were other ‘struggles’ in Kenya, Malaysia, Cyprus and Palestine, which were directed towards the British, who, along with the French (who in fact invented the word ‘terrorism’ which comes from the French ‘regime de la terror’), now bore the brunt of modern terrorism.
The part that I don’t understand is that terrorism has a very poor track record of achievement, not in unnecessary death and destruction, but in the achievement of their goals, as, invariably the terrorists lose their lives with nothing gained. The first ‘modern terrorist’ act I remember that shocked the world was the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics by the Palestinian group, Black September, in 1972.
From that date, we seem to have experienced a terrorist act every year or so. Entebbe Airport in 1976, when Baader Meinhof and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine groups hijacked an Air France airliner. 1980 saw the Iranian Embassy siege in London and, in July 1982, the IRA planted a bomb in Hyde Park, killing 11 people. In 1983, another IRA bomb was planted outside Harrods in London, which killed five people, including an American citizen.
Many acts of terrorism that followed involved hijacked aircraft and what is now known as ‘soft’ targets – discotheques, railway stations, shops and the like. The first terrorist act on American soil was the first bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York, which killed six and injured over 1,000 people. It is here that I saw the role that serious funding plays in carrying out such acts for the first time. Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, a Pakistani militant trained in Afghanistan, claimed at his trial that if he had had more funds and equipment he could have destroyed the whole complex! The next ‘wake up call’ for me was the mention of Afghanistan. On September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden trained and funded agents who took over four domestic airliners. Two were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, causing an estimated 3,000 people to lose their lives. A third plane was flown into the Pentagon killing 180 people. In Western Pennsylvania, the fourth hijacked jet crashed after passengers struggled with the terrorists. So now we had Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan in the frame and the organisation al-Qaeda became a household name.
Around 1989, bin Laden, together with his personal fortune and the ‘ache’ over American influence in his homeland of Saudi Arabia, founded the new terrorist group ‘al-Qaeda’, which was dedicated to opposing non-Islamic governments and driving out the United States armed forces from Saudi Arabia by force. The organisation has a command and control structure and a consultation council, which discusses and approves terrorist operations. With ties to other terrorist groups that operate under its umbrella, such as al jihad based in Egypt, the National Islamic Front in Sudan and representatives of the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezballah, bin Laden has loads of support.
In 1991, he established headquarters for al-Qaeda in Khartoum, Sudan, and formed a series of businesses, including two investment companies, an agricultural company, a construction business and a transportation company, all of which are operated to provide income and assist in the furtherance of new terrorism. A tiny bit of information (which bemuses me) is that bin Laden was an early ‘whistle blower’ against Saddam Hussein and his evil regime and was also (allegedly) trained and supported by the FBI to assist the Taliban in getting the Russians out of Afghanistan!
I regret to say that new terrorism will be with us for a while yet and, although I pray that there will be no more Beslans or World Trade Centres, or any further unnecessary deaths of innocent people, I doubt it! Time will show and, as we’ve seen in the past, leading terrorist organisations do eventually get civilised and sit round the table. Many such organisations have declined or ceased to exist altogether, while others such as the Palestinian, Northern Irish and Spanish Basque groups remain active – although they have made moves towards political rather than terrorist methods.
Whether you are a ‘Hawk’ or a ‘Dove’, whether you want to ‘nuke’ every terror organisation off the face of the earth, or whether you just want to stop the atrocities by negotiation and talking, the remedy will always be hindered by religion and politics. So, until we can all live in harmony, there is still a long way to go before there is total peace in this world. For me, when I get upset by man’s inhumanity to man, I just turn and focus on my family – then turn back to this lock of unknown origin and decide to drill it!