Terrorism is down but not out, and actions must reinforce moderates
ON Wednesday, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Department of Homeland Security issued a warning that the first anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden in a raid by US Navy Seals in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 1 last year could increase the threat of attacks on Americans worldwide. The alerts noted in particular the danger from "lone wolves" or home-grown extremists inspired by al-Qaeda. This echoes the assessment by American intelligence and counter-terrorism officials that while al-Qaeda was not capable of mounting another mass attack on the scale of Sept 11 or the bombings in Madrid and London, the potential for attacks on any number of targets from affiliates, like the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or the North African al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or from lone terrorists and small groups, has increased following the death of Osama.
Certainly, such lone attackers and home-grown terrorists who received training in the camps on the Afghanistan and Pakistan border have been found in the US and Europe. The Frenchman of Algerian descent who shot dead three soldiers and three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Toulouse last month and who was trained in the tribal areas certainly fits the description of the dangerous lone wolf painted by the American authorities. It also demonstrates the group's ability to recruit and radicalise new blood. For sure, al-Qaeda does not need another 9/11 to mark Osama's death. Thus, the threat to softer targets like subways and supermarkets is real.
However, as the case of the massacre in Norway last year illustrates, it is not just militant Muslims who are galvanised by al-Qaeda to kill people in random shootings. As the right-wing Muslim-hating extremist Anders Behring Breivik said in court two weeks ago, he was also animated by al-Qaeda. This should be a sobering reminder that when a bomb explodes or a shooting rampage occurs, Muslims are not always to blame. It was certainly not a Muslim who shot a Jewish congresswoman in Tucson, Arizona early last year. Indeed, it is imperative to acknowledge that terrorists are not invariably Muslims. More importantly, it is critical to face the fact that using the continuing threat from al-Qaeda for American troops to remain in Iraq and Afghanistan after the official withdrawal and step up the drone attacks that kill more civilians than fighters can only alienate and compromise moderate Muslims, increase the supply of recruits to extremist groups and exacerbate terrorism.