The latest incident in Sylhet has underscored the need for security experts to carry out more pro-active engagement in identifying the causes for the growth of terrorism and how to contain it. This was recently attempted during the intensive discussions in Dhaka during the Chiefs of Police Conference of South Asia and Neighbouring Countries. Some controversy was created by security expert Rohan Gunaratna through his comment on possible IS presence in Bangladesh. Our state minister for foreign affairs and our inspector general of police have both refused to endorse the statement made by him linking the terror body IS to the Gulshan attack of last year. The IGP also asserted that the homegrown militants who had been involved in terrorist attacks within Bangladesh had received militant training within Bangladesh.
Despite this controversy, the aforementioned international conference has been an educational experience. Yu Chengtao, the DDG International Cooperation Department, MPS, China made some interesting observations: “In recent years, international counter-terrorism efforts have experienced a complicated situation. There has been an expansion of violent and extremist ideology in the world, showing a globalised, localised, and networking trend. Terrorism has entered into a new period of low cost, high frequency, with casualties across countries and regions in an organised form. Terrorist organisations, with IS at the core, are interacting and coordinating their criminal acts in the world.”
This is creating additional pressure on the international community. In this context, other participants also stated that while international terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda are still occupying space in the mainstream, self-radicalised terrorists are also increasing in number. This is being facilitated through digitalisation and the use of the social media. It was also noted during discussion that there has been a gradual transformation in the methods adopted by terrorists in their attacks.
Instead of bomb attacks, killing by firearms and hostage-taking, emphasis is now increasingly being given to slashing by knives and using of vehicles to crush innocent passers-by on roads. There has also been an evolution in the creation and focusing on soft targets. Civilian targets like churches, mosques, and airports are now also being attacked. This is being done to create panic and also to draw immediate media attention. Such a dynamic was being assisted through the backflow of terrorist views from unstable Middle East. It was also generally agreed that the ideological root cause of such violent extremism has been the effort by terrorist organisations to distort religious concepts for propagating violent extremist ideology through social media.
This process of misinterpretation is also partially being helped through geo-political conflict and surreptitious evolving circumstances related to economic and social conflicts.
The Chinese government appears to have undertaken some practical steps in this regard. They have started a national deradicalisation program in China. Existing government organs, social organisations, and religious groups have been made responsible for inter-active efforts towards economic development, amelioration of social life, reduction of poverty, ensuring basic education and promoting national religious harmony. This is being done to eradicate extremism from the root.
Interestingly, the Chinese delegation also suggested to the Interpol, whose secretary general was present in the meeting, that Interpol should consider taking action to consolidate further international cooperation through consensus through a General Assembly Resolution that would deal with “the making and spreading of violence and extremism through audio and video means.”
It was also proposed that the Interpol General Secretariat seek parallel cooperation with other organisations, particularly the Internet Cooperation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). This would enhance the possibility of putting an end to the internet dissemination of violence and terrorism inciting programs from its source. This would also encourage law enforcement agencies in the member countries to provide relevant information to the IPSG for necessary verification by the ICANN. This in turn would help to prevent malicious materials from being released in the internet.
The Dhaka Declaration, issued on March 14 after the conclusion of the conference, underlined the important objectives of the meeting: (a) strengthening existing relationship among law enforcement agencies and relevant organisations of the world, (b) crafting of a regional strategy to combat violent extremism and other types of transnational crimes, (c) increasing the practice of exchanging information and sharing of best practices among law enforcement agencies and (d) developing a common platform to cooperate in prompt, effective and prolific manner at times of need to fight terrorism and transnational crime. It appears that these objectives were chosen becasue of the need for countries within the sub-region, the region and also in the broader context to develop actionable strategies and integrated approaches that would usher in more professionalism and efficiency in the common fight against transnational crime. It should be understood here that this effort would also target the problems associated with human trafficking, financial crimes, offences related to terrorist financing, drug and illegal small arms smuggling.
While international terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda are still occupying space in the mainstream, self-radicalised terrorists are also increasing in number
These facets gain in importance because transnational organised criminals act conspiratorially in their criminal actvities and possess certain characteristics, which according to analysts may include, but not be limited to: (a) the violent activities that they commit or acts which are likely to intimidate, or make actual or implicit threats to do so; (b) exploiting differences between countries to further their objectives, enriching their organisation, expanding its power, and/or avoiding detection/apprehension; (c) attempting to gain influence in government, politics and commerce through corrupt as well as legitimate means; (d) economic gain as their primary goal, not only from patently illegal activities but also from investment in legitimate businesses; and (e) attempting to insulate both their leadership and membership from detection, sanction and/or prosecution through their organisational structure.
Transnational organised crime has been identified as one of the ten threats and challenges to international peace and security by the United Nations High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. An ad hoc committee has also been established by the United Nations General Assembly to deal with this issue through the adoption of regulatory arrangements aimed at identifying, defining and linking them to domestic criminal offences. This prospect includes the possibility of mutual legal assistance, extradition, law enforcement cooperation, technical assistance and training.
Consequently, it was encouraging to see that the Dhaka conference was able to agree on various areas of cooperation among the law enforcement agencies, including: (a) promoting cooperation among respective investigators and prosecutors with a view to prosecuting offenders involved in terrorism and transnational crimes; (b) establishing IT network with relevant countries for sharing information on how to curb violent extremism and transnational crime; (c) promoting cooperation among forensic science laboratories and training institutions; (d) strengthening and enhancing capabilities on how to act against money laundering, drug trafficking, human trafficking, cybercrime and financial crime; (e) enhancing cooperation to prevent smuggling of illegal arms from being obtained by terrorist groups and other criminal networks; and (f) organising joint training programs for sharing best practices and exchanging ideas among law enforcement agencies.
One hopes, however, that the relevant authorities will also give attention to initiating dialogue towards the stemming of the flow of dangerous counterfeit products and urge the UN to promote quicker and more effective implementation of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador and Chief Information Commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance, can be reached at [email protected]