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David Miller: Welcome to the ‘New Terrorism’

David Miller Online
Welcome to the ‘New Terrorism’

It is not surprising that even though the air campaign over Afghanistan continues, people in the United States and around the world are more concerned with the spread of anthrax. After-all, US politicians, academics and defence personnel have warned against the possibility of a terrorist attack that includes the use of chemical and biological agents since the 1990’s and the events of the past month have demonstrated the reality that the ‘new terrorism’ has finally emerged.

In 1998, President Clinton warned that the characteristics of terrorism had undergone a transformation. In a speech following the attack on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Mr. Clinton declared that terrorism, “has a new face in the 1990’s… The new technologies of terror and their increasing availability, along with the increasing mobility of terrorists, raise chilling prospects of vulnerability to chemical, biological and other kinds of attacks, bringing each of us into the category of possible victim”.

It has been argued that until the events of September 11, this new brand of terrorism manifested itself through incidents such as the 1993 World Trade Centre Bombing, the 1996 bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, the US embassy bombings in East Africa and of course, Osama bin Laden. These incidents demonstrated that the new terrorism is one that aims to produce casualties on a massive scale and that religion rather than political ideology had become the motivating factor. Even though the groups and personalities involved are diverse, Osama bin Laden became the personification of terrorism and whenever an incident has occurred it is immediately attributed to him or the al-Qaeda network.

So how can the concept of the ‘new terrorism’ be defined? There are no doubt many views on what constitutes this concept and all of them have validity. This is not an attempt to sit on the fence but the fundamental issue one encounters when researching this topic. For the purposes of this column, the ‘new terrorism’ is defined as being built on three pillars. These are the role of the state sponsor, the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, (WMD), the religious connection and a linkage between these aspects.

The linkage between religion as a motivating factor and increased lethality is strong theme that emerges from any debate on this topic. The emergence of religion is viewed as becoming the prime motivation for terrorism and in this struggle groups are prepared increase the lethality of attacks by increasing their technological and operational competence and use weapons of mass destruction. It must be noted that Islamic terrorism is only one facet of this phenomenon and this has been demonstrated by the claims by the FBI and other US law enforcement agencies that the source of the anthrax campaign may be a US domestic extremist group. Nevertheless, when people talk of the new terrorism it is jihad to which they most often refer and once again the link is made to bin Laden and his Afghan network.

Jihad, which means holy war, is looked upon as a war being orchestrated by radicals such as Sheikh Umar abd ar- Rahman, a cleric who sees it as his duty to destroy the enemies of Allah and Osama bin Laden. The Jihad is not restricted to one location and is viewed as encompassing Bosnia, Palestine, the Philippines, Somalia, southern Sudan and Afghanistan. One main feature of jihad is the issuing of fatwas and until September 11 it was such statement upon which bin Laden built a large part of his reputation.

The reason the ‘new terrorism’ had such power was that it created fear among those in the US and elsewhere. Essentially it was a cocktail of religious extremism, the potential use of weapons of mass destruction controlled an evil mastermind or government that sought to wreak enormous destruction on the US and its allies. Until September 11 it was just a threat and a possibility of what might occur. The sarin gas attack on the subway marked the first time terrorists had used chemical agents as their choice in weapon, but it appeared to be an isolated incident.

Fear is what makes terrorism such an effective and powerful weapon and over the past tem years, fear has grown of the new terrorism. With the September 11 attacks, a group or groups have used the tension to launch a chemical weapon campaign. The casualties from anthrax are incredibly small when compared to the numbers of those who died that day, however the fear this is generated is much bigger in proportion. Why is this the case? People fear the unknown and the anthrax campaign represents this. It is the first time that chemicals have been used in a sustained campaign and in doing so terrorism has crossed a threshold. It has entered a new phase and that is why anthrax is the main concern at the moment. After years of debate the new terrorism has emerged.

In 2000, President Clinton stated that, “I hope we will be creative in the ways we fight terrorism and chemical and biological warfare, cyber terrorism – and what I think will be the most likely threat to our security over the next 20 years, which is that the miniaturisation process that we see, inevitably, part of technology that now allows you to have a little computer in your palm with a screen and a keyboard that people with big hands like me can’t use anymore – will also – you will see this with weapons. And it is likely that we will deal with those kinds of weapons in the hands of the terrorists, with enormous destructive potential, even than we will have to fend of hostile missiles coming in. And I hope we’ll have a bipartisan consensus about how to imagine the new most likely security threats of the 21st Century”. The world is witnessing this now.

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