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Cover Stories Series 2011> Antiterrorism Post 9.11> Archive
UPDATED: August 4, 2010 NO. 31 AUGUST 5, 2010
Terrorism's New Frontiers

Despite global antiterrorism efforts following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 in the United States, terrorism remains a daunting threat to world security. While the situation in Iraq has yet to stabilize, terrorist activities in Yemen and Somalia are again picking up steam. The latest developments have added to the difficulties in preventing and combating terrorism. In the following article, Li Wei, Director of the Institute of Security and Arms Control Studies of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, sheds light on three emerging trends of international terrorism:

After the September 11 attacks, most of the old organizations and command systems of international terrorist forces, led by Al Qaeda, were destroyed. Instead of completely disappearing, however, they transformed their traditional organizational forms into an array of non-traditional terrorist movements.

Decentralization and networking

These international terrorist forces have established a new kind of loose alliance. They maintain contact with one another while retaining the power to determine when and in what form to attack their common enemy. At the same time, the terrorist organizational structure has changed from pyramid to parallel.

Moreover, terrorist forces with the same ideology, common targets and similar political goals have formed a global network. Though they are not subordinate to one another, they support and cooperate with each other. In virtual space, terrorist organizations issue threatening articles and speeches via websites and forums on the Internet, and they offer online terrorist training in order to teach important skills.

The new terrorist movement has three main components. The first part is the leaders of Al Qaeda, such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. They have become the spiritual leaders of terrorist forces and typically use audio or video speeches to call on terrorists to launch attacks. The second part is the numerous branches of terrorist forces. They form the main body of this terrorist movement. In a way, Al Qaeda is the standard-bearer of the movement, while other terrorist organizations and regional terrorist forces with similar ideologies align with it. The final part is extremists who support and sympathize with Al Qaeda. They provide the ability for this movement to grow.

The reason terrorist forces can survive is that they are able to get some public sympathy and support. Much of this is related to a number of unresolved international conflicts. In some nations and regions, Osama bin Laden is considered a hero for standing up against the United States and other Western powers.

Online operation

The Internet has emerged as a new means for terrorist propaganda and training. The Internet's convenience allows terrorist leaders to swiftly publish speeches responding to current international affairs. It is also a major communication channel that terrorist organizations utilize to recruit new members and plot attacks. Terrorists often use encrypted chat rooms and coded language to discuss how to carry out terrorist attacks. Moreover, through online training, radicals can learn various attack skills, and then launch attacks individually.

Nidal Malik Hasan, a psychiatrist who allegedly killed 13 people and wounded 30 others at the Fort Hood military base in Texas, the United States, last November, is an example of someone who received terrorist ideas through online training and became a "lone wolf" terrorist.

New tricks

Instead of using a single method, terrorists now combine various methods to launch attacks. On November 26, 2008, 10 terrorists attacked Mumbai, an Indian city with a population of 13 million, killing 195 and injuring at least 370 others. In this shocking incident, terrorists used varying means of attack—such as detonating bombs, seizing buildings, taking hostages, and launching armed attacks—in different locations and all at the same time.

Terrorists have also used new tricks, such as hiding explosives in their bodies. In August 2009, a terrorist approached Saudi Arabia's Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, who is in charge of the nation's antiterrorism affairs, with the excuse of surrendering. During the meeting, the terrorist detonated a bomb hidden in his rectum, injuring the prince.

Another trick terrorists have used is hiding explosives beneath their clothing in order to escape airport security checks. A terrorist on a plane bound for the United States tried to set off a bomb hidden in his underwear on December 27, 2009. Although the attack failed, this incident caused widespread panic in the United States.

Indian intelligence officials said in January 2010 that terrorists were planning to stage attacks using paragliders—another novel form of attack.

Terrorists can often obtain raw, bomb-making materials locally. British officials said they foiled a terrorist attack plot in August 2006, in which terrorists planned to put self-made liquid bombs into bottles and cans in order to bypass airport security checks. The goal was to detonate the bombs in 10 planes flying from Britain to the United States. It was later discovered terrorists in the United States and Germany also used common chemicals to make liquid bombs.

The possibility of terrorists gaining access to and using weapons of mass destruction concerns the entire international community. The anthrax incidents shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks proved to be acts of bioterrorism. If terrorists were to gain access to nuclear weapons, they would pose the most serious threat to humankind.

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