Terrorism in Asia (Part II)
Paper presented by TRC Director Caleb Temple in Arlington, Virginia, at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies “Counterterrorism Strategies for the 21st Century: Asian and Pacific Basin Perspectives” conference, August 26, 1999.
Terrorism in Asia poses a significant challenge to local governments, their populations and U.S. interests. Several countries currently suffer from continuing attacks by long-standing insurgent groups, and over the years terrorist groups in Asia have been responsible for a relatively high number of terrorist attacks and resultant casualties. Some attacks by Asian terrorist groups, such as the spectacular 15 October 1997 bombing of the Colombo World Trade Center in Sri Lanka by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam which killed 18 and injured more than 100 persons, are as shocking as they are destructive.
Sadly, levels of terrorism in the region recently have been higher than most other parts of the world, In 1998, terrorists conducted 49 separate attacks in Asia, killing 267 persons and wounding another 368. These numbers were surpassed only by terrorist attacks in Africa last year, the location of the 7 August 1998 attacks by Usama Bin Ladin against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Attacks and casualties in Asia have continued in 1999.
While violent extremist groups pose a direct challenge to Asian governments, they also directly and indirectly threaten U.S. interests. The U.S. Government’s list of 30 foreign terrorist organizations includes five Asia-based groups: the Abu Sayyaf Group; Aum Shinrikyo; the Harakat ul-Ansar (also known as the Harakat ul-Mujahedin); the Japanese Red Army; and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Within the region, secular guerrilla groups, such as the remnants of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, continue to intimidate and attack civilians. The dwindling New People’s Army in the Philippines was also active in 1998, conducting a series of bombings against rural police posts. While once widespread and deadly, the Khmer Rouge, NPA, and others like them are not fairing well since the collapse of their ideological lynchpin, the Soviet Union.
Ethnic rebels, such as Sri Lankan separatists, also continue to engage in political violence against local authorities and civilians. The LTTE poses a significant security challenge to the Sri Lankan government, and specializes in suicide bombings and the assassination of Sri Lankan government officials.
Security problems continue in India due to continuing insurgencies in Kashmir and the northeast. In the past, Kashmiri militants have attacked villages and murdered rural civilians. Political violence has also been an unfortunate hallmark of Indian elections in the past.
The Japanese doomsday cult, Aum Shinrikyo, is looking for new members, and relies on internet solicitations and a complex web of businesses according to local media sources. Aum Shinrikyo which was responsible for a sarin gas attack in a Tokyo subway in 1995, has also expressed anti-U.S. sentiments, it also apparently believes the world will end in the next couple of days. Another Japanese terrorist group, the Japanese Red Army, is in decline with several members arrested in Lebanon in February 1997. Their conviction in Lebanese court was upheld last year.
Finally and perhaps most challenging, extreme interpretations of Islam –many of which advocate violence–seem to have taken root and are spreading in both the Southeast Asia and the subcontinent. Violent Islamic movements in Southeast Asia include the Thailand-based Pattani United Liberation Organization the Philippine Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and the Abu Sayyaf Group which allegedly had connections to New York World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef.
Of particular concern for the United States are Islamic extremist groups in South Asia. Over the last several years, several Islamic groups in this region, to include Saudi terrorist Usama Bin Ladin who is currently hiding in Afghanistan, have threatened or attacked U.S. citizens.
In July 1995, the Pakistani-based Harakat ul-Ansar kidnapped a U.S. citizen and five others in Kashmir.
In April 1997, unidentified gunmen murder four U.S. businessmen in Karachi, Pakistan. Two groups claimed the attack was in retaliation for the conviction of Pakistani national Mir Amal Kasi for murdering two CIA employees and wounding three others outside CIA headquarters in 1993.
In February 1998, Usama bin Ladin used his Afghan hideout to issue a fatwa encouraging all Muslims to kill Americans everywhere.
Following the 20 August 1998 U.S. missile strikes against the Zawar Ku al-Badr terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, several Pakistani-based Kashmiri militant groups vowed revenge for casualties they suffered at the camp. In November 1998, for Harakat ul-Ansar and current Harakat ul-Mujahedin leader Fazul Rehman Khalil vowed to kill 100 Americans for each dead Muslim. In 1998, the leader of the Lashkar-l-Jhangvi party also vowed publicly to kill U.S. citizens and offered his support to Usama Bin Ladin.
The level of anger directed at the United States by several Islamist groups in South Asia continues today. In the last several weeks the leaders of the Pakistani Jamat Ulema-i-lslami party and the Sepha-i-Sahaba Pakistan both threatened to murder Americans living in Pakistan if the U.S. Government attempted to capture or kill Usama Bin Ladin in Afghanistan.
Asian governments, however, are fighting back. Military and police sweeps in the last two years have weakened both the Philippine ASG and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. In December 1998, Philippine police killed ASG leader Abubakerjanjalani1 during a gun battle. Thai separatists were disrupted in 1998 by a series of arrests and unprecedented cooperation from Malaysia, previously a safehaven for Thai rebels. Sri Lankan authorities have participated in the U.S.’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program to receive investigative and forensic training and better hone their response to LTTF attacks.
Terrorist groups in some parts of the region, however, will likely continue to pose a threat to stability and economic growth.
Copyright 2000, held by Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, International Center for Counter Terrorism Studies, 1600 Wilson Blvd,. Suite 1200, Arlington, VA, USA, 22209. Reprinted with permission.
The views presented in this article are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Terrorism Research Center or any other organization.