Counter-Terrorism: February 23, 2005


Iraq has become the place to be for Islamic terrorists these days. Plenty of action, ample opportunities to kill people, with or without the suicide attack option. The question is, how is this going to influence the future of Islamic terrorism? Afghanistan, in the 4-5 years that al Qaeda was able to operate there, provided technical training for several thousand terrorism recruits. Since then, some of these have been showing up all over the world, either as suspects, arrested terrorists, or dead terrorists. However, until the invasion of Iraq, all this terrorist talent had not been able to achieve much. There still have not been any major attacks in the United States after al Qaeda was shut down in Afghanistan. Moreover, most of the terrorist operations in Iraq are against Moslems. Al Qaeda is using Iraq to make it clear that Islamic terrorism is very capable of killing Moslems who disagree with al Qaedas goals. The CIA believes that these operations are training more al Qaeda operatives, thus enabling them to move on to other countries, where they can inflict more damage. 

Perhaps. But over 90 percent of the terrorists in Iraq are Iraqis. More specifically, they are Sunni Arabs, often former members of Saddams security forces. Former Iraqi military personnel are providing the technical expertise for all those roadside bombs. Former Iraqi military munitions dumps are providing the explosives and detonators. The AK-47s and RPGs used to terrorize, or kill, Iraqis, are also formerly the property of the Iraqi armed forces. 

Iraqi terrorists have been successful mainly because most of their operations are in Sunni Arab areas, where the population is either pro-terrorists, or terrorized into silence. Islamic terrorists who tried to do it Iraqi style in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, found that fewer sympathizers, and more police, made it impossible for them to do much. In both countries, terrorist cells were able to carry out, at best, one or two attacks before being hunted down and arrested or killed. Currently, cells are being caught before they can carry out any attacks at all.

Many of the active terrorists running around outside of Iraq got their practical experience, not in Afghanistan, but in their home countries. In the last decade, thousands of Islamic terrorists have been driven out of Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Yemen. They left because the alternative was capture and imprisonment, or death. Many of these terrorists have come to Iraq. Or at least they used to come to Iraq. The death rate among those foreigners entering Iraq has been so high that many of the survivors went back home, and new volunteers are having second thoughts. However, a lot of the experienced terrorists did not go to Iraq, which is instead attracting a lot of eager, but untrained and inexperienced, Islamic radicals. These amateurs are not much good for anything except suicide missions, and many of them are not mentally stable enough, or brave enough, even for that. Some are told to go home, or asked to pay for weapons, and training, and the possibility of some participation in an attack on enemies of Islam. These victims tend to be Shia Iraqis. The Americans are too difficult to kill, and too accurate when they fight back. The Kurds are better organized, and quick to shoot when they see a suspicious Arab in their midst. So the Islamic terrorists in Iraq end up killing mainly Iraqis. 

The terrorists who are not rushing off to Iraq are hiding out in places like Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Lebanon and, especially, Europe. What scares terrorism experts is that the number of remote control bombs built and used in Iraq could cause tremendous damage if these devices were used in the United States or Europe. Once you have the explosives and detonators (both commonly available to construction firms the world over, and often stolen), the remote detonation equipment can be easily fabricated using cell phones, garage door openers, or even remote control toys. Why isnt this happening? Many of the technically adept Iraqis doing this sort of thing in Iraq, have equally skilled friends and family in Europe, and even the United States. Hasnt al Jazeera and European media demonized the United States as an evil occupying power, and called on all righteous Moslems to make war on the United States? Isnt this supposed to be creating millions of angry Moslems, energizing people sufficiently to turn them into active terrorists? Where are they? Why arent roadside bombs going off along American, or European, highways?

Whats wrong with this picture?

First of all, far more angry Moslems will talk about taking action, than will actually do so. That should be obvious. Also, most of the terrorism in Iraq is by Iraqis (Sunni Arabs) against Iraqis (including Sunni Arabs who dont agree with the terrorists, or just get in the way.) These Iraqi terrorists are killing Iraqis with the expectation that this will get Sunni Arabs back in control of Iraq once more. They are encouraged by European support, and note that most Europeans were against the American invasion that removed Saddam Hussein, and Sunni Arab, from power. Al Qaeda is involved, mainly to arrange the suicide attacks (which are not a popular tactic with the Saddam supporters). But most of the violence is not suicide bombs, but roadside bombs and Sunni Arabs firing AK-47s and RPGs at people, or delivering written and oral threats. Its one thing to do this in Iraq, among familiar surroundings. Its a big move to do it in some foreign country. 

The speculation is that the Iraqi experience will encourage angry Moslems in other countries to go copy-cat and wage a similar terror campaign elsewhere. Especially in non-Moslem nations. Hasnt happened yet, unless you count the March 11 bombings in Spain. If you count that, then theres apparently going to be a long wait before you can count to two. The Spanish rounded up all the usual suspects, and then some. Theres also been violence in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. But only a few terrorists were involved, and most of them were soon arrested, or killed. Those that escaped have apparently been too busy staying escaped to create more mayhem.

Terrorists are not supermen. They have fears, many of them quite real in this age of energetic counter-terrorism. It has not gone unnoticed that nearly all terrorists who were active in the United States are either dead, or doing life in prison. While many Moslems went off to Afghanistan to jihad against the Russians, most came back as braggarts, not supremely efficient international terrorists. There are not that many who can carry out devastating terror attacks. Never have been. Never will be. And you stop those that are out there by creating an accurate picture of what they can do, not another brace of sensational headlines. 


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