Chameleon characteristics of the 21st Century terrorist
We are more keen on dying than you are on living?. This apparently simplistic one line confession made by an incognito Chechen terrorist at the time of surrender, explicitly portrays the precipitous levels of misplaced motivation that keeps the fire burning inside the belly of the huge constituency of surreptitiously ?ubiquitous? terror mongers that straddle the globe during present times.Updated: Jun 10, 2006 00:00 IST
We are more keen on dying than you are on living”. This apparently simplistic one line confession made by an incognito Chechen terrorist at the time of surrender, explicitly portrays the precipitous levels of misplaced motivation that keeps the fire burning inside the belly of the huge constituency of surreptitiously ‘ubiquitous’ terror mongers that straddle the globe during present times.
Paradoxically speaking, violence perpetrated by man against man, as a phenomenon, has always been an inseparable part of human growth, with innumerable instances available in recorded history to suggest the virtual timeless existence of man-engineered ‘de-humanising’ experiences upon which the modern day dynamics of terrorism works.
By and large, with the passage of time, while there has been little alteration in the extremist mindset of any terrorist, his exterior profile most certainly has witnessed a repeated change. Perhaps out of necessity to adapt to the needs of the times.
The aim here is not to delve into the causes that promote terrorism since some of the best thinkers and writers of their respective times have already written volumes upon volumes about this aspect. However, in order to correctly profile a ‘contemporary terrorist’, there is an emergent need to ponder over the ‘chemistry’ of an archetype terrorist, which keeps constantly changing adapting to the needs of the time and has an overbearing effect upon his/her external behavioural profile.
During the latter half of the previous century perhaps, the entire world had remained far too obsessed with the typical profile of a terrorist- That of an uneducated, under-fed and shabbily clothed gunrunning rustic, moving from jungle to jungle, pursuing his own/ group specific ideological, political, social or ethnic agenda, mostly confined to a rural landscape. Such image was created mainly because most of the terror related activities remained clubbed with regional insurgencies. Perhaps the only exceptions to such clichéd profiling were the small breed of ‘hi-tech’ hijackers and the elusive ‘pin-striped variety’ engaged primarily in mafia-controlled narco-terrorism.
However sometime during the Seventies, yet another visual form emerged. And got consciously etched upon most minds, thanks to misguided pan-Islamic ‘jehadi’ revivalism. A new face on the terror scene appeared in the form of a fanatic kalashnikov-wielding mullah, christened as Taliban/ mujahideen. These seminary nurtured ‘tuleba’ (students) supposedly inspired by zealous religious indoctrination, took upon themselves to unanimously play a countervailing role in ‘global power distribution’, which according to their belief was fast becoming hostage to adverse influences/interests of the west, as opposed to their own perceptions of the pure teachings of Islam.
As far as our own domestic profiling of terrorists was concerned we generally adopted the common world’s view. Moreover the kind of terror activities that we as a Nation had been subjected to, particularly due to cross border sponsored terrorism, largely conformed to the radical profile, as sketched out by the West.
However post 9/11 there has been an apparent paradigm shift in our own understanding, alongwith the rest of the world, of what a modern day ‘urbanised’ terrorist may look like. For one he can no longer be segmented only as an uneducated, forlorn youth of humble means, openly espousing his fundamentalist cloak. Nor can he /she be typified as a brusque persona showing any telltale signs of revelling in ‘de-humanising’ acts. On the contrary he /she may perhaps actually be just another low profile ‘youngster- next- door’, cleverly fortifying his ‘carnivorous instincts’ behind an intelligently crafted external appearance of poise and gentle demeanour.
Take the case of Kuwaiti born, Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, the top Al Qaeda operative, (said to be Number 3 in Al Qaeda hierarchy), arrested near Islamabad on March 1, 2003. Mohammed was not considered a typical terrorist, by western intelligence agencies, because per se, he did not fit into the set mould of a terrorist. According to FBI he was “of kind-hearted disposition with a perpetual smile across his face. His English was flawless. Having completed an accelerated engineering degree at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, in just two and a half years, he graduated in 1986 at the tender age of 20”. Master of Arabic, English, Urdu and Baluchi languages, his terror activities included masterminding the 1993 bombing of the WTC in New York, August 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, October 12, 2000 bombing of USS Cole in Yemen and the brutal 9/11 attack in New York and Washington. Mohammad was said to have not only recruited and placed the members of the September 11 suicide squads, but also planned and executed the entire strike that saw the mighty US humbled, at least for the moment.
While, Mullah Umar or Osama Bin Laden may be classified in the traditional mould, but they only provide the ideological leadership. The frontline operatives Aiman Al Zwahiri, Kahlid Mohammad, Mohammad Atef (one of the most trusted Lieutenants of Osama Bin Laden) and the just eliminated chief of Al Qaeda operations inside Iraq, Ali Musab Al Zarqawi, to name a few essentially belong to the modern day chameleon variety.