Europe-wide crackdown on terror cells is underway in the aftermath of
the ISIS terrorist attack in Paris that left at least 130 people dead
and over 300 injured, some of them severely. The attacks have raised a
lot of questions for which answers are still being sought not only in
France but also in capitals around the world. With some attackers and
their accomplices still believed to be at large in France or in
neighbouring nations, it will take some more time for the entire
horrendous story to unfold. But it is a story that must be uncovered
As a country that suffered from the ill effects of terrorism for 30
long years, Sri Lanka does have a lot of experience in this field.
Indeed, Sri Lanka remains one of the few countries which has defeated a
terror group. Granted, the modus operandi and the objectives of the LTTE
and ISIS are different, but there are certain similarities too. While
the LTTE (once described by the FBI as the most ruthless terrorist group
in the world) used terror tactics to press for a separate state in Sri
Lanka, the ISIS is not exactly a territorial terror group and eventually
aims to establish its dominance over a much wider swathe of the world.
It is also based on its own misguided interpretation of Islamic
tenets. Clearly, the ISIS has nothing to do with Islam or the Quran. It
has distorted history and religious texts to present a completely wrong
picture about Islam. In fact, most innocent people targeted by the ISIS
are Muslims themselves.
Sri Lanka has been sharing its experiences in anti-terrorism
operations with other countries and there are many lessons that can be
drawn by the French and European investigators as they deal with the
aftermath of the biggest terror attack in the continent since 2004
Madrid bombings blamed on the al-Qaida. One of the biggest assets in the
tool kit of the 'good guys' is reliable intelligence. This being the
second major terrorist attack in Paris in less than one year (after the
Charlie Hebdo attack in January), questions have been raised whether
there was a lapse in intelligence gathering. They will no doubt take any
corrective action needed on this point. However, gathering intelligence
is not enough.
It must be shared among all countries - terrorism anywhere is
terrorism everywhere. No country can afford to shut its eyes and ears
saying it will not be affected by terrorism. The LTTE had a global
footprint. So does ISIS.
Granted, this is no easy task because intelligence agencies have to
tread rather cautiously in gathering information. There are always
accusations of racial profiling whenever one or two communities are
targeted, but we have to bear in mind that this is sometimes inevitable.
There are also privacy concerns - some freedom of expression rights
are affected if the State authorities (or highly sophisticated
robots/filtering tools) listen in to telephone conversations or scan
through emails of private citizens.
But such restrictions could be the collective price we have to pay
for greater security which subsequently leads to the greatest good of
the greatest number. Here in Sri Lanka, we are all too familiar with the
concept of checkpoints which may impede your freedom to travel for a few
minutes, but at the end of the day you feel safer because you are aware
that the Security Forces are on alert. Such a tradeoff may be essential
to ensure greater security.
That brings us to the equally important concept of eternal vigilance.
It is no secret that many terror plots were foiled here because the
authorities were always vigilant. British Prime Minister David Cameron
said soon after the attacks in France that UK authorities were able to
thwart at least seven terror attacks on UK soil thanks to a combination
of good intelligence and relentless vigilance. It may still not be
possible to prevent all the attacks, but the chances of more incidents
happening is diminished significantly if the authorities are always
As the saying goes, Governments have to be lucky all the time, but
terrorists have to be lucky only once. There is no better solution than
eternal (24x7, 365 day) vigilance. There is absolutely no need to let
the guard down, regardless of the perceived threat level.
Training of Police including SWAT teams and Security Forces is
another essential requirement. They have to be ready to face any
eventuality at any time. Terrorists usually choose the night time for
attacks since they can move and fire under the cover of darkness, but
this is not 'a given'. An attack can really take place anytime. In fact,
9/11, the biggest-ever terrorist attack took place in broad daylight,
though the operational aspects were admittedly very different.
The security units must be provided with the latest weapons and
surveillance devices as the terrorists are also usually equipped with
the latest weapons sourced from well-funded terrorist networks.
Funding of terrorist organisations remains one of the biggest
problems for Governments. Sri Lanka successfully led a campaign to cut
off funding for the LTTE. The ISIS rose to prominence in a very short
period and it remains a mystery as to how they accumulated so much money
and firepower in such a short period. It is quite possible that certain
entities are funding it. These funding sources must be found and cut off
before the funds are used to create more carnage across the world. The
international community must strengthen the terrorist financing laws.
Even if international funds are not forthcoming, there is one form of
terrorism that seems to have raised its ugly head in Europe.
It is called home grown terrorism, where people who have been born
and raised in certain countries attack those very countries.
This happened in the July 2005 attacks in the UK and in the recent
attack in France. One answer to this issue is ensuring that migrant
communities are not isolated from the mainstream community.
They must be given every opportunity to integrate with the rest of
the society. A society that respects equality and provides equal
opportunities to all is often the best answer to insurgency and even