Five bombings in four weeks. The
targets: a downtown shopping mall, a military housing complex and three
apartment buildings. The victims: civilians or the families of serving military
personnel either asleep in their beds or out for an evening on the town. The
death toll: at least 350 persons, with scores more injured and maimed. The
perpetrators: unknown. The reason for the attacks: unclear. Welcome to
terrorism, 21st century-style.
At a time when the United States is
obsessed with more exotic threats like bioterror, cy-berteiror and agroterror,
these incidents in Russia and Dagestan underscore how terrorists can still
achieve their dual aim of fear and intimidation through conventional means and
traditional methods: using bombs to blow things up. This has important
implications for countert-errorism preparedness. As fanatical and irrational as
terrorists often appear, they remain conservative operationally.
In other respects, too, the string
of deadly explosions that has convulsed Russia is not without precedent. Nor
can it be written off as some isolated phenomenon inspired by recondite
historical enmities. Rather, the bombings conform to a pattern of terrorism
evident throughout the 1990s: The most heinous and lethal attacks, those
directed against civilians, go unclaimed. This development contrasts with the
modus operandi of the first generation of modern terrorists who surfaced during
the 1970s and 1980s. They not only proudly claimed credit for particularly
bloody attacks, but generally issued detailed communiques explaining precisely
why they had carried out their operations.
True, a large number of terrorist
attacks have gone unclaimed. According to a Rand report published in 1985,
upward of 60 percent of international terrorist incidents recorded between
1980-82, and 39 percent of those that occurred in the 1970s, were never
claimed. The most deadly terrorist incidents of the 1990s have never been
credibly claimed, much less explained or justified as terrorist acts once were.
Among these are: the series of car
and truck bombings that rocked Bombay in 1993, killing 317 persons; the huge
truck bomb that destroyed a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina,
in 1994, killing 86; the truck bomb that demolished the Alfred P. Murrah
Federal Building in Oklahoma City, leaving 168 dead in 1995; the series of
bombings in Paris that occurred the same year between July and October and left
eight dead and 200 wounded; and last summer's bombings of the U.S. embassies in
Kenya and Tanzania, in which 224 persons perished and thousands more were wounded.
The 1988 in-flight bombing of Pan Am 103, in which 270 persons perished, is an
especially notorious example.
Although two alleged Libyan
government intelligence operatives were identified and accused of placing the
suitcase containing the bomb that eventually found its way onto the plane, no
believable claim of responsibility has ever been issued.
That terrorists today do not feel as
driven to take credit for their acts may be related to their belief that their
message, whatever it may be, is still reaching its intended audience. As the
renowned terrorism expert Walter Laqueur has observed, "If terrorism is
propaganda by the deed, the success of a terrorist campaign depends decisively
on the amount of publicity it receives." In this respect, terrorists are
still getting all the publicity they crave, but they are manipulating and
exploiting it in different ways. By maintaining their anonymity, terrorists may
believe they are better able to capitalize on fear and alarm. Attacks
perpetrated by enigmatic, unseen and unknown assailants may thus be
deliberately designed to foment greater insecurity and panic in the target
audience. In this way, the terrorists’ ability to portray themselves as being
able to strike whenever and wherever they please, while highlighting the
government's inability to protect potential targets, is appreciably heightened.
The terrorists appear stronger, the government weak and powerless to stop the
Terrorists have long sought to
embarrass governments and undermine public confidence in their leaders. Even
when they issue no claim, the perpetrators may believe they are still
effectively harming their enemy and achieving their ultimate objective. They
may also be confident that even if their message is not clearly understood, the
suspicion aroused by even an anonymous attack is sufficient reward in itself.
The current situation in Russia
illuminates the challenges faced by other countries confronted with terrorist
threats. The potentially corrosive effects of fear and uncertainty on civil
liberties and constitutional safeguards are already evident: Russian
authorities and the Russian public have singled out Chechen, Dagestani, Ingush
and other swarthy, dark-haired immigrants from the Caucasus. Discriminated
against in the best of times, they have been subjecte.d to withering scrutiny
despite assurances from President Boris Yeltsin that no one ethnic group or
people would be targeted for attention.
The ease with which Russia has been
thrown into panic by a handful of men using entirely conventional terrorist
weapons and tactics suggests that terrorists can still ably achieve their
objectives of fear and intimidation without having to resort to more exotic
weaponry or futuristic tactics.
This is an important lesson for the
United States, where the focus of current counterterrorism efforts has been on
low-probability, high-consequence terrorist incidents using weapons of mass of
destruction. Attention on this high-end threat, therefore, should not be at the
expense of higher-probability, lower-consequence incidents, such as ordinary
Bruce Hoffman is the director of the
Rand Washington office and author of "Inside Terrorism." He
contributed this comment to the Los Angeles Times.
Terror; Don’t Resort to it
The great Russian poet Alexander
Pushkin once wrote with bitterness that "the only European in Russia is
the government." And this despite how he suffered at the hands of the
tsar's government and especially the tsar's censorship. I recalled the genius'
paradoxical phrase when — a few days after the anti-Caucasian bacchanalia in
the press— Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced, "We can't confuse the
bandits who are operating on the territory of Chechnya with the Chechen people,
who are also their victims."
A war against terror must not be
turned into terror against the people. We lost the Chechen war of 1994-96
precisely because from the very beginning
— with the massive, senseless
bombing of Grozny
— the war was turned against the
people, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians. We won the
August war in Dagestan precisely because it was fought in the people's defense.
In order to win a war with bandits
and terrorists in Chechnya, we have to clearly announce to ourselves and to the
Chechens what the goals and tasks of our policy in Chechnya are to be. This
means guaranteeing the safety of our borders and the liquidation of the cradles
of terrorism in Chechnya. We have to convince the majority of Chechens to
support these intentions. We have to give Chechen President Asian Maskhadov a
chance. We must cease threatening Chechnya every day from the pages of
newspapers and televisions with the wholesale destruction of its residents.
Then, after we have accomplished these tasks jointly with Chechnya’s legal
government, we can discuss the region's status, including its sovereignty.
We must also say that we don't plan
to forcibly hold Chechnya as part of the Russian Federation against its will,
nor do we plan to punish it should it wish to leave. On this subject, Dagestan^
defensive reaction to the Chechen troops pouring over its borders shows that we
are not in danger of a domino effect should Chechnya secede.
The great Russian civilization
cannot roll down the path to the destruction of an entire ethnicity, no matter
how difficult the last 100 years of relations with this ethnicity have been.
Here, the matter is not world public opinion. As concerns world public opinion,
we wouldn't have any trouble at all.
For example, in 1996, in the heat of
the crudest and most senseless bombardments of Chechnya, President Bill
Clinton, on a visit to Moscow, publicly supported President Boris Yeltsin and
compared him to Abraham Lincoln, struggling to hold the union together.
And now, the quotes of Western
politicians — especially off the record ones — are beginning to reflect the
motif of understanding Russia's role as a shield protecting civilization from
the "barbarian hordes." But here we risk more than just falling into
a trap. We are in danger of geopolitical catastrophe. With every public
pronouncement sounding in Russia about the wholesale destruction of the Chechen
ethnicity, with every "mistake" that happens during "surgical
strikes on terrorist bases," we are begetting thousands more potential
suicide bombers who will come to our cities. Such a final solution to the
"Chechen question" would once and for all turn all Islamic opinion
against Russia. Satan No. 2 — as the Ayatollah Khomeini used to call the Soviet
Union — would be graduated in the eyes of the Moslem world to Satan No. 1,
crowding the United States out of its honored position.
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