Institute for Counter Terrorism: International Conference on Global Terrorism Report

Case study

Key points

Conference on Counter-Terrorism


Terror’s Global Impact was the theme of this years Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) International Conference on Global Terrorism, which brought together some of the world's top counter-terrorism professionals to Israel, to offer ideas and possible solutions to the challenges facing the international community. The ICT is a non-profit organization, located at the IDC (Interdisplinary Center in Herzliya) specialising in counter-terrorism research.

Introducing the conference, Dr Boaz Ganor, the founder of ICT and Deputy Dean of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at IDC Herzliya, spoke enthusiastically about a new partnership between the ICT's International Counter-Terrorism Academic Community (ICTAC) and the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED). In the coming months ICTAC will provide CTED with research and analysis, as well as access to its international network of counter-terrorism experts, many of who have first-hand experience in counter-terrorism operations.

A key aspect of ICT’s research is its identification of the contradiction between lowering the operational capability and the motivation level of the terrorist. "If you try to lower the capability of the terrorist you also raise his motivation to retaliate. It’s a concept that many security services practitioners and decision makers don’t fully understand, and could lead to misguided decisions" commented Ganor. It is factors such as these which the partnership between ICTAC and CTED will hope to resolve.

The ICT conference tackled a range of count-terror issues with panellists from Israel and around the world discussing topics including the financing of terrorism; international cooperation in counter-terrorism; threat assessment as a tool in counter-terrorism and terrorism and medicine.

The financing of terrorism

Terrorist organisations invest significant effort in the security of their sources of financing. One of the strategic focuses of counter-terrorism is to uncover and neutralize these sources. Dr Eitan Azani, a senior researcher at ICT, and former Head of Intelligence in the Lebanon Division of the Israel Defence Forces questioned whether the nature of financing the global jihad has been properly understood.

Azani claimed that in many cases, countries have understood the threat that comes from the financing but have done little or nothing to block sources and that the international community lacks a coherent strategy to combat both terrorism and its financing,.

The panel came to an agreement that the strategy of combating the financing global jihad has changed little since 11 September 2001 and the beginning of the War on Terror. If, say, a terrorist organisation encounters a problem with its sources in the USA, it can easily move operations to somewhere like Southeast Asia or indeed any other nation where the group is able to operate freely.

The sources of financing before 11 September, 2001, utilized mainly informal channels to transfer funds. These included cash couriers, the families of terrorists, and the terrorists themselves. Since then, the structure has become more complex and consists of informal and formal channels, but the informal or grey zones are given preference.

The grey zone includes the hawala system, international crime, Islamic banks, cash couriers, and money laundering. This channel is preferred as it acts as a smoke screen to hide the identity of the sources.

Hawala is an alternative or parallel remittance system. It operates outside of, or parallel to 'traditional' banking or financial channels. It functions solely on a basis of trust, usually between families or known business contacts, without any documentation.

Al Qaeda is also said to rely on charities to raise and distribute funds. A number of charities have been closed down by the UN and national charity regulatory bodies but it is very difficult to identify exactly where money has been gathered and disseminated and at times, charities are able to change their names and continue their operations under a new guise.

What was clear was that international cooperation is vital in the fight. CTED was established with that goal, and was successful in passing Resolution 1373 (2001) which views the suppression of financing of terrorism as one of the crucial elements in the fight. It obligates all states to "prevent and suppress the financing of terror acts".

Working together

How is international cooperation generated in the global war against terrorism? Because of the changes in the modus operandi of the Islamic radical organizations and the influx of Muslim immigrants into the West, some of who can be used to launch terror attacks, it was agreed that international cooperation is seen as the only solution to the threat.

The panellists claimed that while the UN had passed several anti-terrorism resolutions, they had largely been ineffective and the creation of the CTED was an attempt to try and encourage member states to enforce these new laws.

In an effort to further counter the terrorist threat, Ganor proposed an alliance of Muslim states that understand that Islamic radicalism is not just a contradiction of true Islam, but also a concrete danger to their regimes. Such an alliance could only be created if these Muslim states truly understand that have to join forces to stop the threat from radicals. It should be seen as not as an altruistic step on behalf of the West, but as a matter of self interest to defend true Islam.

As an example of how this could work, Martha Crenshaw, Professor of Global Issues and Government at the Wesleyan University in Connecticut in the US, pointed out that many regimes that were hostile to the USA, openly condemned the attacks of 11 September 2001.

There is little doubt that such cooperation is the way forward and it was noted that one of the primary reasons that the central organisation of Al Qaeda had been crippled since 2001 was due to the level of cooperation between intelligence agencies on the national and international levels. The proof of international success in combating Al Qaeda as a unified command structure is shown in the fact that the movement has become decentralized.

However, the invasion of Iraq eroded much of the worldwide confidence in American leadership, especially after President Bush’s statement: "If you aren’t with us, you're against us". But in the 2006 American National Security Strategy, an entire chapter is devoted to the need for allied cooperation and the need to defend, not just the USA, but all states, against terrorism. There is clealry a greater recognition by the USA for the need for international cooperation.

The role of threat-assessment

In introducing the workshop on Threat assessment as a Tool in Counter Terrorism, Col Lior Lotan of the ICT, spoke about some of the future challenges faced by security agencies. He said: "The past methodology in preparing for worst case scenarios is not sufficient today. Cyber terror, weapons of mass destruction, direct action against governments, suicide attacks and many other threats, has forced us to adopt new methodologies to stay one step ahead of the terrorists".

The process is to try to anticipate what is most likely to happen, to analyze what the critical component that needs protection, such as physical venues, then try to analyze the probability of the threat, and to identify the weaknesses in the plan.

Terrorism expert Eric Herren, said that threat assessment should be a guide to operational activity. He asked: "How can our ability to deal with complex threats be upgraded and how can improvements be made to our existing methods"?

Imagination is an important tool in threat assessment. It is important to be imaginative in discussing the probability of events before they happen. Flexibility is equally vital and security officials should be prepared for surprises as terrorists will always try to push towards creating a reactive situation. Operational learning means to be ready to learn on the spot. Split-second decisions often have to be made.

Emergency medicine

In the Terrorism and Medicine workshop, Dr Leonard Cole, Adjunct Professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA, spoke about the four essential requirements in terror medicine: preparedness, capability, incident management and education. .

Speaking about preparedness, Cole stressed the importance of stockpiling medical supplies, which can then be delivered to any location within a country at very short notice or which will exist in sufficient numbers to help cope with mass casualty situations.

Decontamination facilities are vital in the case of biological warfare. Hadassah Hospital, in the Ein Kerem suburb of Jerusalem, has at least fifty outdoor showers and dozens of metal stretchers. Almost all the hospitals in Israel are well prepared to deal with biological warfare. This was a direct result of the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein threatened Israel with biological warheads.

Hospital staff must be taught how to use available facilities. Rehearsals and exercises are essential and Israel requires hospitals to carry out real time drills and attack scenarios on a regular basis.

A critical factor in the category of capability includes the ability to convey large numbers of patients to hospital at short notice and to commandeer additional space when needed to accommodate the extra influx. For example, unused basements can be utilized for this purpose.

Under incident management, the rapid arrival of ambulances can be critical. This could mean saving or losing a life. A designated person on the scene has to make important decisions as to which the best hospital would be to deal with certain categories of injuries, bearing in mind that not all hospitals have the same facilities.

The nature of the treatment in terror medicine is that it has to deal with unusual injuries such as nails and screws, as these are usually contained in terrorist bombs. Immediate psychological intervention is essential as the stress factor is much greater as opposed to incidents such as road accidents.

Col Lior Lotan, executive director of ICT, in his closing address said: "The challenge in the fight against terror is upon us to continue to research, improve cooperation by exchanging knowledge and information among key people so we will be more prepared for the next round of global terrorism which will try to destroy our values and way of life".

Joe Charlaff is a freelance journalist who specialises in homeland security issues.

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