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'India is a worthy target for global jihadis'

December 28, 2009 14:58 IST
Boax GanorBoaz Ganor established the International Institute for Counter Terrorism, located at Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv, 13 years ago in a pre-9/11 era when studying terrorism was a unique discipline. He is its executive director.

Dr Ganor, author of The Counter-Terrorism Puzzle: A Guide for Decision Makers, lectures at ICT as well as at several other locations, and internationally, on terrorism and counter-terrorism.

For 14 years, from 1989 to 2003, he was a consultant to the Israeli government on counter-terrorism and served as a member of the Palestinian, Israeli, American committee formed as a result of the Wye River Memorandum implemented with the help of the Clinton administration in 1998 that dealt with the future of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. He spoke to Vaihayasi P Daniel in Tel Aviv recently.

Tell us about the institute which you head.

This is an academic, policy-oriented, research institute, which is an NGO, a part of the Inter Disciplinary Centre, which is the only private university in Israel focusing on social sciences.

We established ICT about 13 years ago, coming from the understanding that terrorism -- more than anything else -- is an inter-disciplinary phenomenon. Think about any academic discipline that you have in mind and you will find relevance to terrorism -- psychology, sociology, political science, law, criminology, biology, chemistry, you name it.

This is why we thought of bringing to the table academic knowledge. It, combined with practical experience, can give you a much better understanding of the phenomenon (of terrorism) and therefore help in conducting much better policies in conquering this phenomenon.

So we saw ourselves as bridging the gap between the academic ivory tower, that is knowledge, and the practical, tactical and operative knowledge.

Within ICT we have different groups of experts: We have scholars from all our universities in Israel, coming from all those disciplines. We have several dozens of practitioners who have served as heads of security agencies and departments that dealt with counter terrorism.

They have finished their service, they are now on pension, but they are still looking for a place where their knowledge can be relevant -- they can learn about new trends of terrorism and they can share their knowledge and experience in countering this phenomenon. We are bringing those people together in brainstorming sessions, in policy research and advising decision makers.

We are one of the main centres in the world of teaching counter-terrorism and homeland security. We have many programmes and the jewel in the crown is a graduate degree in counter-terrorism and homeland security which is being conducted in English.

What are some of the things that Israel does right by way of counter-terrorism, which may be the result of your institute's work?

First of all, although we are an Israeli institute, from day one, we have served as an international counter-terrorism institute. We are facing the whole world -- while we are proud to be Israeli and proud to bring to the table the Israeli experience. But we refer to terrorism at large, and global jihadi terrorism in particular. It is an international problem, not an Israeli one.

Therefore, I would say that most of our activity is aimed at the international community -- meeting with decision makers from all over the world, heads of security services, briefing them, doing research activity for them, war gaming, so on and so forth, and, of course, giving them orientation courses on subject matter that has to do with terrorism and counter-terrorism.

So you have people studying here from all over the world gaining special expertise in counter-terrorism.

Yes. On the other hand we are also constructing tailor-made courses for different agencies all over the world based on their requests made -- it could be risk analysis, it could suicide attack phenomenon, it could Islamic radicalisation.

How do you go about examining how terrorism operates? Do you send people to trouble spots? Have you sent experts to India?

We usually do not send people to examine terrorism in different parts of the world. It is very expensive (laughs).

Today, with the New Media, you can actually gather a sea of information about every terrorist attack and counter terrorism activity coming from open sources. We do work with those open sources. We have language skills and capabilities within the institute, so we can translate from most languages including Arabic.

On the other hand we have ties with counterparts all over the world. I have created, about five years ago, another institute called ICTAC -- the International Counter-Terrorism Academic Community. This is a roof organisation for those new research institutes that were founded, mainly after 9/11.

(Utilising) the prestige of ICT, and our long experience in this field, and (because of) the requests for conducting a lot of relationships with those organisations, we have created this international institute. The members of the institute are meeting from time to time, staying in contact with each other and sharing views and ideas.

In a way I would say that the concept that (guides) my work and my belief in this field is the slogan I use: It takes a network to beat a network.

What we are facing right now is the global jihadi network. This is a very complex network. It is spread all over the world. It includes the Al Qaeda terrorist organisation. It includes local networks, proxies and individuals.

The real challenge right now is to create an international counter-terrorism network, which will also be a complex network -- it will have governmental organisations inside it, academic organisations, private businesses which deal with counter-terrorism and homeland security and individuals with subject matter.

Only when we have created this network will be prepared to deal with the global jihadi network.

How are you building this global network?

I know my limits. I am a scholar. I am not a politician. I am not a decision maker. I am not the head of a security services. I cannot create the governmental international cooperation. I can advise the decision makers to do so. But I cannot create that. But I can create -- and that was what I did create -- ICTAC. This part of the overall strategy that I believe needs to be constructed.

Do you have ties with India through ICTAC?

We have ties with India. We have different scholars in India. But no ties with large Indian organisations. There are some very good Indian scholars we have close ties with. Sometimes we get very good material coming from those scholars -- their analysis about the situation of terrorism in southeast Asia, Pakistan, India.

As you say you are a scholar. In order for a concept like ICTAC to work, does it not need the signing on of politician and others to make it relevant?

I see just the opposite. There is this tendency for people to believe that one cannot be a good professional in counter-terrorism if he doesn't have intelligence, confidential material on a regular basis. I tend to disagree with that. I beg to differ.

Today most of the information is (available) in open sources. But you need to be professional enough to distinguish between -- what we refer to -- as noises and what is crucial material. And to distinguish between them is the whole challenge.

We have to bear in mind that, when we talk about Al Qaeda and global jihad, that these organisations use the Internet as their platform of operation today, platform of communication, platform of funding, platform of recruiting, platform of training etc.

This (platform) is open not just to the activists but also to us and our (counterparts in) other institutes in the world. This is why you can get a lot information and understand the picture even without any intelligence, confidential material.

Probably we are not the people who can give a warning about a terrorist attack/terrorist plan/plot of tomorrow morning. This is the job of the security services. This will probably come from confidential sources. This is nothing we are involved in; not interested really.

We are interested in understanding the big picture, the overall strategy and help to create the overall counter strategy.

What information can you share on the way terrorism happens in India, maybe as a piece in the global jihadi network?

That is the way I would refer to it. Basically when we talk about the problem of international jihadi terrorism we should differ between two types of jihadi terrorism -- global jihadi terrorism and local jihadi terrorism.

I would argue that today there is no such a thing as a pure local jihadi terrorism. Because although we have local eruptions of jihadi terrorist activities in different parts of the world, it is always tightly connected with other parts of the world and the overall global jihadi concept.

We see, in recent years, several areas in which local jihadi terrorists are being active. Kashmir, India, is one of them. The Israel and Palestine arena is another niche. The Chechens. The Bosnia arena. Southern Thailand. Philippines. Somalia. Iraq, of course. Afghanistan and Pakistan. Xinjiang, China, the western side of China.

Those are cases of local jihadi terrorism, which means local jihadi terrorist organisations are trying to achieve local goals, leaning on the concepts of jihad and the concepts of global jihad.

Sometimes they have a tight connections with the global jihadi network and Al Qaeda. In other cases they are just being inspired. Or getting some operational help here and there.

One of the interesting examples is our region. If you take Hamas's Islamic jihad. They do accept and follow the concepts of global jihad. But they have an internal debate with Al Qaeda (on): What comes first? And what is more important? The local goals to create a local Khilafat Islamic Shariah governed State in Palestine, instead of Israel, or to promote the global jihadi concepts in the international arena?

If you would ask some of those seekers of Hamas's Islamic jihad, they do differ about what should come first. Some of them are saying that they would definitely -- after the creation of a Palestinian State, instead of Israel, which will be a Khilafat Shariah governed state -- unite their forces to support a global jihadi effort but right now (this) should get most of their attention.

They are more interested in fulfilling their selfish local intentions?

No, it is not selfish. It is a building block within the overall concept. The debate is what should come first. (It is) the same thing I believe with some of these Kashmiri jihadi groups. Although they see themselves as part of the global jihadi concept, they are first and foremost interested in the local goals that they have.

Of course, many of them are being supported by local forces that push them forward to achieve the local goals first and foremost.

So what is crucial, in my view, to understand is that there is a chain that connects all of those local events (with) the international arena. It doesn't mean that we are talking about one hierarchal organisation or one hierarchal network that is functioning like we used to see in the 1970s, (when) the Communist international web of terrorism was being constructed by the USSR that actually gave orders to those in different parts of the world. It doesn't work like that today.

Today it is a bit of local and a bit of global.

Exactly. But it is not separate. We need to understand that it is an overall concept/effort that has different ways of materialising itself in different parts of the world.

Can you delineate, in more simple terms, the connection between what is happened in Mumbai and something which is happening in in Kashmir, that has connections over the border in Pakistan?

How do you draw that picture?

It is a good question. First of all, there are similar (several) connections which are simultaneous connections. No doubt there are connections between those Kashmiris may be the Mumbai attack with the Pakistani elements. But at the same time I would argue that those organisations, sometimes those (Kashmiri) activists have been inspired by material that comes from sources outside Pakistan, could be from elements that are connected to Al Qaeda, it could be from this or the other imams and religious clerics that are connected to Al Qaeda or influencing the Al Qaeda at the same time.

It might be -- and this is not my field of expertise -- that you will even see some joint training or sharing operational knowledge between those groups. I would not be surprised if I found those elements happening in Kashmir and other places because it is happening in other parts of the world.

We saw the efforts of Al Qaeda to influence China in January, we see it in Iraq, we see it in the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. So definitely there are elements that are trying to be influential in Kashmir and inside India.

Based on your experience, gleaned from what you term the open sources, what would help India in its battle against this jihadi network?

India is no different from any other country, in reference, first of all, of being potentially attacked by terrorists. There is no one State which is today immune to the threat of terrorism. India unfortunately has the local problem and the international global jihadi problem.

We should bear in mind that, India has a very large Muslim moderate community. India in a way is a success, a model of success -- of moderation within the Muslim community, within the Muslim world.

Having said that, India, as such, is a worthy target for the global jihadis to promote internal tensions and create provocation that will steer one community against another community. They are trying to do that in every part of the world and I do believe that we didn't even see that in the magnitude that we will probably see in the future, in India too, and this is on top of the Kashmir conflict. This is another reason for the global jihadi interest in India.

Does not this shadowy global jihadi network not worry about hurting its own people?

This question was posed to them time and again and they answered that very clearly. They are saying: We are fighting a defensive war. I think, of course, they are misleading themselves in their constituency by believing that, but they are saying this is a defensive war. 'We are defending Islam, as such, from the infidels, from the attacks of the infidels either by the United States and Western society and so and so forth but not only.'

Therefore in a defensive war where you defend your religion you can sacrifice your own people at the same time and they become shahids, they become martyrs even if they weren't suicide attackers themselves.

One of the questions was in the case of the attacks that were in Amman in Jordan a few years ago (three hotels were bombed in Amman in 2005) -- the (Abu Musab) al-Zarqawi faction, the global jihadis were launching this attack in a hotel in Amman. All of the victims were Muslims. It created huge criticism in the Muslim world.

And although al-Zarqawi, the number two in Al Qaeda, was kind of apologising for that. Still he defended himself by saying that this is the price we are paying and those people that died are martyrs that died in defending Islam.

So India is a "worthy" target? What needs to be done?

From the point of view of India the challenge is very clear. And India like many other States has and should always try to develop -- this is an ongoing effort there is no one example I can tell you -- (say) Israel or the United States (where) we can lean back and say we have done our share, now and we can live happily ever after -- they need to be ongoing intelligence efforts to get more intelligence know about those plots, about those ideas, about those intentions of the terrorist.

You need to be trained to thwart the attack. You need to be, unfortunately, proactive. Israel is being criticised, in many cases, because of operations Israel has been conducting against the terrorists as pre-emptive steps -- targetted killings and so and so forth.

When you are dealing with suicide attackers, once the suicide attacker has been sent to his mission, his success is guaranteed. Because, even if you have the intelligence, that he is on the way, even if you send your police officers and security personnel to stop him, he will kill anyone who tries to stop him. So if he will not kill 200 civilians, he will kill 20 police officers and this is a success.

The only way to prevent a success is to conduct a pre-emptive strike based on the intelligence you have and to prevent a capability before they launch the attacker to the mission. So being proactive is very important. Then you need very good security measures, because if intelligence fails, if proactive measures fail, if deterrence is failing, then the only thing you have left is good security.

Good security is by the way the last rank in the chain of thwarting terrorist attacks. But its importance becomes so crucial when all other ranks are failing. Not as strong (option), but the only thing you can rely on at that period of time.

Leaning just on security in a suicide attack arena is very difficult almost impossible, but still -- if you don't have any other option -- you need to limit the casualties and security in the arena of suicide attacks cannot prevent the attack.

India has always been wary of pre-emptive measures because of the alienation it could cause to a section of its people...

You are pointing out, in my view, to one of the biggest challenges in counter- terrorism nowadays.

There are two big challenges. One is exactly that: How do you balance between your effort to limit the operational capabilities of the terrorist, by being pro-active, and knowing that by doing that you might raise the motivation of your enemies or constituencies that might support the enemy as an outcome of your pre-emptive activity.

Second is the democratic dilemma. How can you balance between efficiency in counter- terrorism and liberty and democratic values? I will not deal with that. It is a huge topic!

Going back to the first (challenge): The key/the solution for that is being as selective as possible. In the sense that if you have information about a planned attack, if you need to have a counter strike, see to it that you limit collateral damage as much as possible.

You don't hurt innocent civilians on the way, as much as possible. You conduct it only if there is no other way to stop it. If you can, capture the guy, by not killing him. It is preferable.

If you cannot, you should kill him. But then again, as said before, do it in a way that will not cause a lot of damage and casualties to civilians. And then you need to explain to those constituencies, that might be offended by your attack, why you had to do it. You have to explain how selective you were in your activity.

Vaihayasi P Daniel in Tel Aviv