9/11: 18 years on | Sunday Observer

9/11: 18 years on

After 9/11, the world is still facing terrorism threats
After 9/11, the world is still facing terrorism threats

September 11, 2019 marked the 18th anniversary of one of the most dastardly terrorist attacks ever on a totally civilian target – the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, one of the most iconic buildings in the world. More than 3,000 people perished in the attack, including those who were in the hijacked planes. September 11 or 9/11 as it is better known will forever be associated with this horrendous episode of pure terror. The former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, believed to have masterminded the operation, was killed in an operation by US Navy Seals in 2011.

Eighteen years after 9/11, the world is facing new terrorism threats. Sixty seven countries recorded at least one death from terrorism in 2017. This is the second highest number of countries since 2002, but a significant fall from the 79 countries that recorded at least one death in 2016. But every region in the world recorded a higher average impact of terrorism in 2017-2018 than in 2001. The increase in the impact of terrorism was greatest in the Middle East and North Africa. But the ‘good’ news is that the lethality of terrorist attacks has declined as the operational capacity of terror groups has fallen over the past few years. Twenty per cent of terrorist attacks were unsuccessful in 2017.

However, groups such as the Al-Qaeda are still active in its core regions and have vowed to step up operations in the South Asian region. Sri Lanka, which faced LTTE terrorism for nearly 30 years until 2009, enjoyed 10 years of relative peace until the events of April 21 shattered it. This was the first time that Sri Lanka experienced a Jihadist terror attack apparently inspired by the ISIS, a terror group that has emerged in more recent times.

In these columns, we have always stressed that Sri Lanka should remain vigilant to global trends in terrorism as it is now essentially global in nature. Following the attack, questions have been raised why intelligence warnings were not heeded. But then, that is the nature of terrorism – terrorists have to be lucky only once, but Governments have to be lucky all the time. Just a week back, the US called off peace talks with Taliban after they unexpectedly staged an attack in Kabul that killed a US Serviceman and some others. Even the LTTE still has remnants in various countries that believe in its ideology, who continue to raise funds and engage in propaganda.

Many countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have been torn apart by violence and terrorism, not to mention the deaths of civilians in bombings and military/terrorist attacks. These were once peaceful countries that are now shells of their former selves. This is a tragedy of our times.

ISIS is the biggest threat to world peace that has emerged in recent times. Earlier active mostly in Iraq and Syria, but trying to spread to other countries in the region after they were pushed out of those territories, ISIS is an extremely barbaric terror group that should have no place in the modern world and modern civilization. So horrendous are its methods that most other terrorist groups have dissociated themselves from the group. Confronting the ISIS has become an urgent challenge for the world community. No country is safe from their brand of extremism and terrorism. Their ideology, if it can be called as such, is diametrically opposite to that of Islam and Islamic clerics the world over have condemned the group unequivocally. In Sri Lanka, the Muslim community as a whole expressed its shock at the events of April 21.

The biggest concern is that many foreign Jihadists have joined the ISIS. It was reported that several Sri Lankans too had joined the organisation. Eighteen years after 9/11, it is apparent that the world is again coming together to confront the ISIS and other terror groups, despite differences among the broad array of countries willing to fight terror within and outside their borders.

There will be a debate on exactly how the ISIS could be contained fully, though it has almost been driven out of some if its former strongholds. There are plans already to increase air strikes against the ISIS, but many question whether that alone would be effective without any ‘boots on the ground’ i.e. a considerable military presence. It would probably be a combination of several methods that would finally succeed, along with the establishment of peace and stability in the affected regions. That would minimize the ability of terrorist groups to tear apart the social fabric and disrupt the lives of innocent civilians.

Any military campaign would be only an aspect of the fight against ISIS. There are other ways in which their reach could be minimized. The ISIS has unfortunately captured the imagination of a new generation of jihadists -- from Arab, Asian and European states alike -- with its ruthless pursuit of a Caliphate and relentless propaganda machine. Thus it is essential to curtail the spread of extremism online.

It is vital for all countries to ensure that no outside forces are able to infiltrate and radicalize sections of their Islamic populations. This is a lesson for Sri Lanka too. Muslim religious leaders have a major role to play in this endeavour. The youngsters who fall prey to the ISIS propaganda and go to Syria and Iraq to fight for them have unfortunately been indoctrinated to fight against the very countries which gave them all facilities for education, health, etc. It is better for them to resolve any grievances within those countries without resorting to terrorist acts. Indeed, the perpetrators of the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka were well educated youth who had been brainwashed by extremist clerics and online hate speech.

Intelligence agencies around the world must work together to tackle ISIS and other terror groups. These groups are behind most conflicts in the world and intelligence networks can share information on the latest developments. All countries should keep an eye on individuals who may have a tendency to join foreign terror groups.

The media, both traditional and new (Internet based), must act with caution and restraint at this hour. All terrorists seek an outlet to get publicity for their activities and causes and the ISIS is no different. Fears have been expressed that certain videos released to the Internet on the horrific exploits of ISIS may have served to glorify the group in the eyes of certain vulnerable and gullible youth.

Social media operators too must act cautiously lest the groups gain undue publicity. They must also ensure that racial or religious sentiments are not whipped up by troll or bot accounts. ISIS and other terror outfits pose a huge challenge to the very core of humanity and all countries must join efforts to end this menace.

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