Terrorism: A terrifying strategic logic - self-radicalised killing devices

Rome, 2 Dec. (AKI) - A "terrifying strategic logic" lies behind last week's attacks in Mumbai, terrorism expert, Brian Michael Jenkins, chief advisor to US think-tank The Rand Corporation, told Adnkronos. India was targeted because "the jihadists consider it the nation of the Hindus, who, together with Christians and Jews are considered the enemies of Islam," Jenkins said.

One of the targets of the attacks is the strategic dialogue between India and Pakistan, according to Jenkins. Another is Islamabad's role in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.

Q.Much of your writing about terrorism over the years has focused on the psychology of terrorism. What do the terrorists’ attacks in Mumbai tell you about the terrorists’ motives?

A.We tend to describe terrorism as senseless violence, mindless violence. It seldom is. That does not mean terrorists think as you or I think. They have their own world view. If we look at the attacks from this perspective we can discern a terrifying strategic logic.

Q: What criteria guide their decisions?

A: Terrorists seek three goals: attacking targets that are icons or have 'emotional value' to use their terminology; obtaining high body counts; and causing economic damage.

Q. So why from their perspective did the terrorists attack India?

A.The jihadists see India as a Hindu nation, which along with Christians and the Jews, makes it an enemy of Islam. Muslim Kashmir ruled, sometimes with a heavy-hand by Hindu India, provides a further cause. India also has increasingly become an ally of the United States thereby elevating its status as a target in the eyes of the jihadists inspired by Al-Qaeda’s ideology. Some jihadists look forward to the creation of an Islamic state in India. With Muslims comprising just 14 percent of India’s population that seems to be an unrealistic goal. More pragmatically, a terrorist attack on India can exacerbate antagonisms between India’s Hindu and Muslim and communities and provoke Hindu reprisals like the 2002 massacre of more than thousand Muslims in Gujarat. That, in turn, facilitates recruiting by Muslim extremists.

Q.Why did the terrorists select Mumbai instead the capital of Delhi?

A.Mumbai is India’s commercial and entertainment centre, India’s Wall Street and Hollywood, its Zurich and Milan. It is prosperous. It symbolises modern India. Mumbai is also a city of Hindus and Muslims, facilitating local recruitment and reconnaissance. It is accessible by sea. This was the third spectacular terrorist assault on Mumbai. In 1993, Muslim extremists set off a series of bombs killing more than 250 persons. In 2006, they planted bombs on Mumbai’s commuter trains killing 200.

Q.Why did the terrorists choose the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels as their ultimate objective and scene of their final stands?

A.From the terrorist perspective, the hotels provided ideal venues as killing fields and final bastions. They fulfill the three target criteria mentioned earlier. They are landmark properties. They are filled with people—foreigners and the local well-to-do. The terrorists were looking for Americans and Britons to kill. The message to the local India elite is, “No where is safe.” And the international publicity will inevitably result in travel to India being cancelled or postponed. Tourism is exquisitely sensitive to security concerns. This attack will cost India huge sums.

Q.The terrorists’ attacks have increased tensions between India and Pakistan. Was this also part of the terrorists’ strategic objectives?

A.Pakistanis already perceive India as a major threat to the Pakistan’s national security. While I suspect that most people in Pakistan are as horrified by the terrorist attacks as everyone else in the world, the prospect of another armed confrontation with India or of India conducting military attacks on suspected terrorist training bases in the Pakistan portion of Kashmir will provoke anger and strengthen the hand of those in Pakistan who support a hard line against India. That, in turn, will help the terrorists based in Pakistan. It may have the immediate benefit of persuading Pakistan to redeploy its forces from the frontier tribal areas where it has been going after militant jihadists to defensive positions against India. Any slackening of Pakistani forces in the frontier areas could further complicate things for NATO and American forces in Afghanistan.

Q.You have said before that “all terrorist operations are recruiting posters.” How does that figure here?

A.Terrorist attacks are intended not only to cause fear and alarm, but also to inspire terrorist constituencies and attract recruits. By succeeding—and here 'success' means large-scale death and destruction with global media coverage for days—terrorists are in effect saying, “Look at the damage we were able to inflict with just ten men. Imagine what we could do with ten times ten.”

Q.What you describe would seem to be a terrorist propaganda masterstroke. But what motivates the attackers themselves, all but one of whom were killed?

A.The attack provides an opportunity for them to demonstrate their conviction, their courage, their prowess as warriors. Although it requires little courage to mow down unarmed civilians, the terrorists had to accept their own death as the likely outcome. And if they die, they believe God will grant them a quick passage to paradise. I suspect they thought that going down shooting was better than secretly planting bombs in public places, which has been criticized by some jihadists as unmanly, or simply blowing themselves up in suicide bombings, even though ten suicide bombings might have caused even more casualties. Their homicidal-suicidal fanaticism, however, runs deeper than their declared beliefs. It reflects a peculiar personality type, if not outright psychopathology. In today’s globalised grievances, one can adopt a reason for aggression. These guys are self-radicalised, disposable killing instruments. You need only insert a sim-card to program them into action.


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