Comment: The evil face of terrorismby Fr Paul StenhouseNews Weekly
, November 3, 2001
Following the World Trade Centre and Pentagon suicide bombings in the US, Fr Paul Stenhouse, an expert in Arabic culture, looks at a changing world where all wars are international and terror against civilians is the preferred weapon.Targeting civilians is a feature of modern revolutionary movements. Of the 1,312 recorded terrorist acts committed over the past three years by the 53 terrorist groups that have been identified, only 18 of the incidents targeted military personnel or installations. The other 1,294 bombed, kidnapped or assassinated civilians.
The violence against civilians is unremitting. The Basque terrorists known as Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna
(ETA) are ageing Marxists from the northern provinces of Spain who since the early 1960s have murdered more than 800 people.
On November 17, 1997, six members of the Islamic Group (IG) dedicated to the overthrow of the government of Hosni Mubarak and the setting up of an Islamic state in Egypt, forced their way into the Hatsheput Temple in Luxor and systematically shot or stabbed to death 58 foreign tourists along with three Egyptian policemen and an Egyptian tour guide. After commandeering a tourist bus, the gunmen were killed in a shoot-out with Egyptian security forces.
More than 100,000 people, almost all civilians, many of them women and children and the elderly, have been murdered in Algeria since 1992 by terrorists belonging to Antar Zouabri's Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and its offshoots. Sometimes entire villages have been wiped out.
On January 18, 1999, two terrorists - a Pakistani and a South African - attempted to assassinate the Bangladeshi poet Sainsur Rahman and his wife. Rahman, who has been outspoken against Islamic extremism, was unharmed, but his wife suffered knife wounds.
On January 3 last year, terrorists attacked four vehicles in Rundu, Namibia, killing three French children and wounding their parents. The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) is suspected.
Terrorism is an act of war stage-managed in order to reach a worldwide audience through extreme violence against innocent third parties. Terrorists crave headlines as addicts crave a "fix". They think that they are untouchable, and that they can violate all conventional moral and legal standards of civilised society with impunity. They are not celebrities; they are criminals. Many of them are also mad, as Fidel Castro found to his dismay when welcoming hijackers to Cuba.
The world's media set common sense and morality on its head by treating the marriage in Khandahar, Afghanistan, of the son of terrorist Osama bin Laden to the daughter of bin Laden's aide, Abu Hafas al-Masri, as the year's most exclusive wedding.
We are told by the London Times
that the elder bin Laden "beamed", was not carrying "his trusty Kalashnikov", and "outwitted Western intelligence", thumbing his nose at the FBI in the process. Images of al-Masri and the bin Laden duo were carried around the world on Arab satellite TV. Western media picked them up at a reported cost of US$3,000 per minute for the footage. The money will doubtless be used to buy weapons to kill more people.
Bin Laden Snr is far from the humble and simple person the editor of Al-Quds al-Arabi
makes him out to be. This 17th son of a Saudi construction magnate financed the assassination attempt on the Bangladeshi poet mentioned above, along with training and recruiting mujahideen in Bangladesh.
He is held responsible for the bombing of two US Embassies on August 7, 1998: in Nairobi, Kenya, killing 291 innocent bystanders of whom 259 were civilians, and injuring 5,019; and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 10 and injuring 77. Bin Laden's al-Qa'ida
movement is the main suspect in the attack on USS Cole
in the Yemen (October 13, 2000), when a suicide mission killed 17 sailors.
According to Hashim Salamat, head of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines, Osama bin Laden is helping finance this Islamic terrorist organisation. Al-Qa'ida
has trained mujahideen in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan and the Yemen, as well as volunteers from the Philippines and Egypt.
Bin Laden's name has been linked with terrorist acts since December 1992, when two Australians were killed in a bombing attack on a hotel in Yemen.The Times
described the US as "jittery" about the Saudi terrorist. With good reason. In February 1998 he issued a fatwah in the name of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders, calling on "every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it can be done, to kill Americans and their allies - civilian and military".
Bin Laden has publicly stated his desire to acquire chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear [CBRN] weapons. He described this as a religious duty.
The principal targets for CBRN weapons are civilians. The disruption, panic and psychological distress caused by such attacks can immobilise whole populations, and destroy infrastructure necessary for the survival of millions.
The attack with sarin nerve gas launched by the Aum Shinrikyo in the Tokyo subway system in March 1995 is a grim reminder of how vulnerable civilians are, and how generally unprepared are governments for domestic and international terrorism.
Components, information and the technology for constructing CBRN weapons are available under various guises through the Internet or from commercial suppliers in the former Soviet Union. Bin Laden has links with Chechen and Dagestan guerillas.
Bin Laden, like Saddam Hussein, has a warped mind. Like so many others driven by mad religious or cultural or nationalist ideologies, he seems indifferent to the large numbers of innocents who die at his hands. Rumour has it that he is ailing physically, and may be replaced as head of al-Qa'ida
by an Egyptian terrorist.
If his successor is not to plumb new depths in murder and terror we will need to stop treating terrorists like romantic freedom-fighters, or worse still, like a joke. They should be treated like the criminal cowards and bullies they are, and steps should be taken to protect civilian populations from the consequences of their insane delusions.