Friday 31 August 2012
Last Update 31 August 2012 4:51 am
IN recent years, the Kingdom has waged a successful campaign against terror groups within its borders. Moreover an enlightened attitude to the rehabilitation of those who have been duped into supporting the bigoted ideas of Al-Qaeda, has led to a small but significant number of captured terrorists to reject their evil past and seek to live new and decent lives in society.
Yet for all these victories against the men of violence, it was always clear that combating terrorism was going to be a long and difficult campaign, which could not guarantee that violent assaults would always be stopped. This is not least because in the shadowy battle against men bent on causing death and destruction, the initiative lies initially with the criminals. It is generally only once a new terror cell has struck for the first time, that the authorities can use forensics and intelligence analysis, along with traditional on-the-ground police inquiries, to begin to track its members down.
Terrorists have learned to their cost that cell structures are the only way that they can try and stay ahead of the authorities in the countries in which they are carrying out their violent agendas. Because all but the cell leader is unlikely to know other terrorists, the risk of compromising the rest of the network, when one or more of the cell are captured and questioned, is limited.
However, such apparently tight structures, make it harder for the overall network to be controlled by its chiefs. Messages have to be sent in code — always a vulnerable method, or by word of mouth with a courier. This latter poses its own risks, especially if the courier is identified by security forces, and thereafter monitored. It was just such a breakthrough that is believed to have led to Osama Bin Laden’s Abbottabad hide-out in Pakistan.
The only other method is to use telephone or e-mail or some other on-line messaging technique. And here, mercifully, the men of violence are at a serious disadvantage. Even though they may use a new mobile for every message, or route their heavily encrypted online communications through any number of different servers around the world, to conceal their origin, the authorities in many countries, including the Kingdom, have the powerful technology to spot and trace and code-break a large part of such messaging.
It may well be that it was signals intelligence that led to the unmasking of the terrorist cells in Jeddah and Riyadh this week and the arrests of suspects made by the Ministry of the Interior. However, while it is fine to speculate how the latest dragnet closed in on the men of violence, it is also right that it will be many years, if ever, before the authorities can reveal how they brought off this double coup. The terrorists should always be kept guessing about how precisely their network has been penetrated.
Meanwhile, the Kingdom is on a heightened state of alert, with the United States warning its citizens to be watchful as they go about their normal lives here. It seems that foreigners may well have been the intended targets for the terrorists, and it is entirely possible that there are other cells here, that have yet to be discovered.
This development, however, should be welcomed rather than merely greeted with alarm. This is because, truth be told, the string of successes scored by the security forces in recent years and the lack of any new terrorist outrages, has surely made most of us complacent about the risks. It should not be forgotten that the public played an invaluable role in helping root out the bigots when terrorism first came to the Kingdom. The would-be killers have to hide in our midst. They have to strike a delicate balance between living in the community without arousing suspicion and conducting their meetings and moving their weapons and explosives in secret.
Vigilance by every ordinary citizen, to the extent that they spot and report to the police anything that seems to be out of the ordinary with new neighbors, who perhaps keep themselves to themselves, is one of the basic keys to defeating this scourge.
Terrorists around the world are doomed to fail because however appalling their crimes, and however many innocents they slaughter, they cannot overcome the great decent majority in the societies they seek to victimize. The Kingdom is no exception here. We can all do our bit to support the security forces, by keeping our eyes peeled and ears open for anything that is suspicious.
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