With asymmetric warfare becoming a potent weapon for countries to use against its adversaries, chances of terrorists using hi-tech weapons have increased manifold. Terrorism thus has become the currency of power
The potential of irregular forces became clear by the defeat of the US in Vietnam, erstwhile Soviet Union in Afghanistan and once again of the US in Afghanistan. The last war fought by two conventional armies was in 2005, between Russia and Georgia. In recent years, we have witnessed even the US and NATO battling irregular forces. 9/11 may have changed perceptions about terrorism but then proxies are not a new phenomenon. For example, the Taliban were created by Pakistan with the assistance of both the US and China. What has been witnessed in recent years is that irregular forces have demonstrated greater strategic value over conventional and even nuclear forces. A major change has also occurred — while irregular forces and proxy wars were being waged by nations conventionally weaker than their adversaries, today even powerful nations are using proxies. This change has occurred because of multiple reasons. The lethality and accuracy of weapon systems have increased the costs of war, for example, all direct spending by the US from FY 2001 to 2013 on the war in Afghanistan has totalled up to an incredible amount of USD 641.7 billion. Then, there is a question of human lives; body bags moulding public opinion. The human toll in Afghanistan included some 5,000 US-led coalition killed, and over 34,000 Americans wounded.
The above case has led to a new foreign doctrine of the US, in which the latter doesn’t take primary responsibility for events. Also, it allows regional crises to play out until a new regional balance is reached. More importantly, the US replaced its ‘boots on ground’ by ‘proxy boots on ground’. The US has been using proxies in Iraq and Syria. China has been using Pakistan’s proxies against India, and is presently arming and supporting Indian Maoists and northeast insurgents like ULFA and PLAM (Peoples Liberation Army of Manipur). China has created its most deadly proxy in Myanmar in the USWA (United State Wa Army), headquartered in Shan State controlling the ‘golden triangle’. China has armed the USWA with not only machine guns, rocket launchers, shoulder fired air defence weapons and armoured troop carrying vehicles but also missile fitted helicopters. Two years back, Chinese nationals with fake Indian documents on a mission to meet Naga insurgents were caught in Indian territory; and today, Paresh Barua and his ULFA cronies have been traced to Ruli in China. Pakistan is using Indian Mujahideen (IM), Popular Front of India (PFI) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) to attack India.
Some terrorist organisations which are state supported, acquire weapons and capabilities close to those of conventional forces. The erstwhile LTTE and present day USWA are potent examples. Taliban, which ousted the Soviets and ruled Afghanistan for a decade, had tanks, artillery and air support of Pakistan military. In recent years, Pakistan Taliban had been conducting cross-border raids into Afghanistan supported by Pakistani artillery and helicopters. The juggernaut of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) advancing on Baghdad is perhaps the most powerful terrorist organisation in the Middle East which has also become the richest terrorist organisation having looted the banks after capturing Mosul. In a single week, more than 90,000 Iraqi soldiers have deserted the place rather than fighting the advancing ISIS. Modern arms, including hand-held precision- guided munitions could be used against civilian and/or military aircraft, and automatic weapons that facilitate a wide array of terrorist operations, communications, GPS equipment etc.
A perfect example of using what is available everywhere was the 9/11 attack using US commercial aircraft targeting the US itself. The incident stunned everyone, including the superpower US. Since then, plane hijacks for similar purposes have been attempted several times, for example, the recent terrorist attack at Karachi airport in which no aircraft was damaged.
Commercially available fertiliser, chemicals and gasoline are being used to manufacture IEDs and car bombs, and are extensively used with deadly effect including in India. India was ranked third in World’s ‘most dangerous places’ list of 2013. Data from National Bomb Data Centre (NBDC) for 2013 shows India suffered 212 bomb blasts last year, more than double of what Afghanistan (with 108 blasts) suffered. Maoists in India have easy access to explosives and detonators from mining activities in areas of their influence. The recent recovery of 145 kg of ammonium nitrate from a car in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh (UP), may be a pointer to advent of car bombs in India, especially with an Al Qaeda video now calling for open jihad in Kashmir. Fertiliser and chemical plants plus oil refineries can be used by terrorists to cause widespread disturbances.
Internet and Social Media
The Internet and social media have become boon for radicalisation, messaging and coordinating terrorist actions. Increase in networks implies rise of ‘net war’ with power transferred to terrorists. The social media was actively used to scare the northeast residents out of Bangalore city in Karnataka, and surrounding areas, by posting false photographs and messages of their native homes and families attacked and destroyed. More recently, videos uploaded on social media added to inflame communal discord during the Muzaffarnagar riots in UP.
The 9/11 terrorist attack also knocked out critical financial transaction networks and caused an overload of the telecommunications grid. Cybersecurity expert Dan Verton said in 2002, “While Osama bin Laden may have his finger on the trigger, his grandson may have his finger on the mouse.”
Cyber terrorism is not new. The first major attack caused the Siberian pipeline explosion in 1982. Over the years, dams, communications and power at airports, pipelines, sewage system, nuclear monitoring systems, train signalling system, automobile plants, hospital systems, all have been attacked and remain vulnerable in future. Many Indian websites are attacked periodically, including government, defence, intelligence, nuclear installations and organisations. A Syrian terrorist group called Syrian Revolution Soldiers (SRS) recently hacked 27 Maldivian government websites posting a message that this was done because of “silence of the world to resolve the Syrian conflict, which has lasted nearly three years”.
Bomb Implants and Body Cavity Bomb (BCB)
In August 2009, Al Qaeda terrorist Abdullah-al-Asin, tried to assassinate a Saudi prince with bomb inserted in his rectum but the prince suffered minor injuries. The fact that bomb implants may be a reality soon was brought home in a fictional article on Mail Online by Michael Burleigh; a man carrying a diabetic kit with the syringe injects ‘insulin’ (actually chemical explosive Triacetone Triperoxide) into his stomach during flight, the liquid combined with explosives implanted inside him blowing up. Last year, Asadullah Khalid, head of Afghan intelligence, was targeted by a human bomber. Khalid survived with severe injuries but it remains unclear where the bomb was concealed. British nationals killed and wounded in the 7/7 London Tube bombings in 2005 had bone shrapnel injuries, including one man blinded by a bone fragment from the bomber himself. US intelligence believes Al Qaeda has devised a way to conceal explosives inside a body that can avoid detection by sophisticated scanners. They also claim Al Qaeda has developed an undetectable liquid explosive that can be soaked into clothing and ignited when dry.
3D Weapon Printing
Texas firm, Solid Concepts, has made the first metal gun using a 3D printer. 50 bullets were fired from this gun. Earlier, The Mail had printed the first plastic gun in UK, capable of firing a live round, using a 3D printer costing GBP 1,700 and then took it onboard a fully packed Eurostar train in May 2013 without being stopped by security. Blueprints of the weapon, Liberator were reportedly downloaded more than 100,000 times before it could be removed from the web. Liberator costs just USD 25 if you have a 3D printer.
Explosives like Semtex, liquids and non-detectable type developed by Al Qaeda are on the scene. In February 2012, media reported a new type of explosive which a man on a motorbike attached to the car of an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi, but then limpet mines attached to metal have been in existence for decades. Terrorists generally rely on explosive material (chemicals, fertilisers) available in open market. A report in Mail Online dated 15 June 2014, says that Al Qaeda has developed liquid explosives which blow up when dry, prompting US’ evacuation of Yemen. Earlier in 2008, US intelligence intercepted an Al Qaeda underwear bomb using new type of explosive not seen earlier, which used two redundant initiators filled with liquid explosives to detonate a larger liquid explosive charge in men’s briefs. The largely undetectable device could be intercepted because of an intelligence operation that stole the design and a copy of the prototype.
WMD has two connotations; Weapons of Mass Destruction and Weapons of Mass Disturbance. Just like Sarin gas attacks in Syria shook the world, the Aum Shinrikyo cult also used Sarin gas for multiple bombings of Tokyo Subway in 1995 killing 13, injuring 50 and causing temporary loss of vision to 1000. The Cult actually had enough Sarin gas to kill 1 million people. Terrorists today are developing NBC capabilities, assisted by fissile material available in the black market. Toxic radioactive agents can be paired with conventional explosives and turned into a radiological weapon. The recent theft of a truck full of Cobalt-69 in Mexico is an example of the inherent dangers. Recovery of a 1.5 kg Uranium mine by the Army in Assam during January 2013 is significant since intakes of uranium can lead to cancer risk, liver and kidney damage, and cause widespread public panic. The US was subjected to Anthrax attacks in 2001. India experienced the Cobalt-60 leak in Mayapuri in New Delhi during 2011 and in the same year 15 x Uranium sticks went missing from Steel Authority of India which are yet to be traced. Incidentally, as per Russian intelligence, Britain Defence (a top mercenary outfit of UK) had provided a chemical bomb to Syrian rebels, as proposed by Qatar and approved by Washington, which perhaps was used for the first Sarin gas attack on hapless civilians during 2013.
The Tokyo Subway bombing of 1995 which was carried out by the Aum Shinrikyo cult had two remote controlled helicopters but luckily, both of them crashed during trials. Had they used aerial spraying, the damage would have been catastrophic. LTTE had its owned aircraft, 9/11 terrorists commandeered US commercial aircraft, and the USWA has its own helicopters. The threat from air has multiplied greatly with proliferation of UAVs. Now, we have drones being used extensively. Besides, if www.amazon.com can use autonomous winged robots to deliver orders on your doorstep, so can terrorists deliver bombs, using drones even for CBRN attacks.
India and Terrorism
The strategic aims of China and Pakistan at the sub-conventional level are threefold: One, create a Compact Revolutionary Zone (CRZ) combining all insurgent/ terrorist outfits within India and increase their combat potential; two, involve the Indian Military, particularly the Army, into the Maoist insurgency; and three, reduce India to fighting its own people, degrading its external combat potential and keep India’s economy and regional/ global aspirations in check.
India must be prepared for attacks in which terrorists will use latest technology, weapons and innovations. It needs to renew efforts in order to enhance surveillance and monitoring; and synergise national efforts to beat the terrorists at their game. The bottomline is that India should be able to prevent terrorist attacks and react swiftly in case of an attack. Technology plays an important role in all this and one must capitalise on it.