March 18, 2004
The Network of Terror
The catastrophic simultaneous terror bombings that rocked Madrid and sent the United States, Israel and other freedom-loving and freedom-seeking countries reeling symbolized more than a small victory of evil over righteousness.
It was the worse-case scenario for countries at the forefront of the battle against terror. It proved their publicly stated point: This truly is a battle for freedom and democracy worldwide.
But it proved much, much more.
And to distill the horror that claimed more than 200 lives and shattered thousands of others into good vs. evil is to simplify the issues. And that is not at all what policy and counterterrorism people are thinking.
They are looking at logistics and operations.
That's what so deeply troubles the United States and Israel. The powers that be already knew the part about freedom and democracy. It is the new operational realities let loose by the Madrid bombings that are much harder to cope with and, ultimately, much harder to battle and destroy. There is relative security when the terrorists are in Iraq or in Afghanistan or the West Bank and Gaza. Security quickly evaporates when they insinuate within, right there in our streets.
This past year's bombings in Morocco, multiple synagogue bombings in Istanbul and the multiple bombings in Ankara of the British banks and their embassy in Turkey, foreshadowed one of the biggest fears of combating terror: The collaboration between outside terrorists and inside terrorists. That fear has been realized.
These attacks were all predicated upon cooperation between insiders and outsiders. And they were a precursor, a trial run if you will, for an attack against even greater threats. Casablanca, Ankara and Istanbul are all Muslim cultures. It was relatively easy for the outside terrorists, also Muslim, to fit in, the distinctions between insider and outsider were easier to blur in places where extreme Islamic movements are commonplace. But to pull it off in Europe, that was a coup.
Europe is a threat to Muslim fundamentalist terrorists. It represents values antithetical to their motivation and cause. And terrorist attacks in Europe are a trial run for the even greater threat, actually, the greatest threat of all, America, where another attack is planned. In Europe and in America it is much more difficult to put together an effective operation exclusively with Muslims or with new Muslim immigrants as was done so successfully.
The best analysis suggests that the March 11 bombings were a collaborative effort between the outsider enemy of freedom, Al Qaeda, and locals within Spain. All indicators point in that direction. In this new world of terror and horror, the outsiders have the experience and the know-how to plan and activate large-scale terror attacks. The insiders, the locals as we call them, people who could never achieve such wide-scale carnage and gain such widespread notoriety on their own, become the means to the end. It is a mutual, beneficial, collaborative effort.
Contrary to general assumptions, over the years there has been little to no interaction between terrorists groups. The Japanese Red Brigade, for instance, was known as "terrorists for hire." They could be commissioned to execute a terrorist operation on behalf of other terrorist organizations. That was also the case with Carlos, the infamous Jackal. But the Red Brigade and the Jackal were more like hit men than terrorists. When governments - like Iraq and Libya - gave money to terrorist groups, they were supporting and sponsoring the terrorists as an extension of themselves. As states, they could not freely act and attack certain enemies so they employed terrorists to accomplish their tactical goals.
What we are witnessing today is a new level in terrorist operations. It is one of the greatest contributions that Osama bin Ladin has brought to the world of terror, one of his greatest personal achievements.
In Madrid, the Bin Laden model was applied. It brought together disparate groups from opposite sides of the political spectrum. Training arm in arm were Marxists who reject all forms of any religion and totally reject the concept of God and Islamists for whom adherence to Allah's commands is their very essence and being.
whom adherence to Allah's commands is their very essence and being.
Al Qaeda is the "Ford Foundation of Terror" and it is Bin Laden's doing. Their training is open to all who qualify. Americans, South Americans, Arabs, Asians, Europeans, Africans all take part in this new education. They receive training in weapons and in explosives, in smuggling and in intelligence gathering. They are taught how to make contacts with local people and even how to raise money and to be independent. Most importantly, they are taught how to stay under the radar of law enforcement so as not to be discovered before executing an operation. Graduates participate in periodic refresher courses and upon graduation, they even receive a box set of three CD discs, an encyclopedia of everything a terrorist needs to know.
Al Qaeda allows for essential contacts between individual terrorists and formal terrorist organizations - ringing the world with terrorists who have loose, but yet essential, bonds.
There are six essential reasons why Al Qaeda, the dean of all terrorist organizations, must rely on local, small terrorist organizations, to insure the success of their operation:
Al Qaeda needs:
- Real and sophisticated intelligence about the target, which only locals have.
- A good working knowledge of the local security apparatus; how they work and what they look like.
- To amass and store explosives, weapons, vehicles and tools to be used in their attack.
- To know how to maneuver - through traffic and through bureaucracy - in order to elude suspicion.
- Native-language skills in order to avoid triggering the curiosity of local contacts and dealers and other unsavory types who may support local tensions, but do not look kindly on outside terror.
- To be able to pull off a dry run-through of their plan without setting off any red flags.
All this can be accomplished with only a small cadre of locals.
It's so easy to entice smaller terrorist organizations with big guns and big results.
It has become one of Israel's biggest worries. Israel is fighting hard to stop Al Qaeda-trained people from entering the West Bank and Gaza and helping the locals achieve their goals and at the same time also achieve Al Qaeda's goals. Al Qaeda needs only to assemble, place and train terrorist operatives for future bombing operations. Until now, many of the large bombs intended by Palestinian groups for use against Israel have been detected, inadvertently blown up during assembly or triggered and set off by Israel's counterbombing scanners. But an increase in the scale and precision of Palestinian terror jointly with Al Qaeda would change the entire equation.
There have been two intelligence reports that I have received that reported Al Qaeda operatives entering and subsequently leaving Gaza and back to Lebanon. They came and went in order to help local Palestinians construct a strategy of terror and to help them assemble bombs that can be ignited by remote control and are strong enough to destroy Israeli tanks.
The United States worries similarly. It worries that people with the required terrorist training are already in position, just waiting for the pieces to fall into place - the necessary supplies and the contacts to put an attack into action.
Until Morocco, Turkey and now Spain, plans to counter these logistical and operational scenarios were thought of as an exercise in possibilities. From here on, it's no exercise, it's the probability. The clocks are ticking.
An entirely new approach to terror must be put in place internationally. Monitoring outsiders and sharing intelligence must be stepped up. It is imperative to follow the movements of and monitor certain religious leaders and their followers and to carefully listen to and study their teachings and preachings. Almost all of the current wave of terror is stimulated by the forces of extremist Islam.
We must admit that we are targets. Once we can do that, we can begin to take the necessary steps to protect ourselves. The forces of good are working hard, but in order to fight this threat, they must work even harder.