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ICT Conference: Monday’s 2nd Afternoon Plenary Session

The speakers for Monday afternoon’s second plenary session were: Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, Head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; Dr. Sergey Kurginyan, President, International Public Foundation Experimental Creative Center, Russian Federation; and Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, Research Director of the Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College, Sweden.

Rohan Gunaratna – discussed the structure of Al Qaeda. The shura council of Al Qaeda is comprised of seven committees: military, whose goal is to mount terrorist attacked, termed “special operations;” finance; media and information, including the operation of Al Qaeda media outlets such as “Al Shahab;” political; religious; and security. Of the original high command, two members have been killed, two are in detention in Iran, two are in the FATA region of Pakistan (the Federally Administered Tribal Region, which, despite its name, is not really federally administered), and one is at large (guess who!). Gunaratna maintains that, while Al Qaeda has suffered losses, it is “still capable of mounting attacks… [as] every member missing has been replaced.” Al Qaeda, he argues, has an extremely high capacity to make up human losses. An interesting thing that Gunaratna noticed is that the majority of the senior leadership of Al Qaeda are Egyptian, with most of the fighters being Pakistanis, Uzbeks, Tagiks, Afghanis, etc. The majority of those in command positions are highly educated, including engineers and doctors. Al Qaeda is every innovating, including from unlikely sources. For example, according to Gunaratna, Al Qaeda hatched a plot to blow up the Bank of America Building, or Library Tower, in California, after watching the movie “Independence Day.” Two of the chemicals used by Al Qaeda, now famous for being used in the 7/7 London bombings (2005) TATP and HMTD are, together, termed by Al Qaeda as the “Mother of Satan.” As Gunaratna put it, “all of you know how unstable Satan is, so you can imagine how unstable Satan’s mother is.” Regarding likely future developments, Gunaratna contends that, first, a U.S. withdrawel from Iraq in 2011, followed by a withdrawal from Afghanistan, will serve to embolden the global jihad movement. Second, In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia will continue to emerge as hotbeds of Islamic terrorism, particularly given that only 35% of Yemen is under the control of the Yemeni government (an estimate which I, your humble blogger, thinks is far too high). Last, Gunaratna predicts that the threat to the West will persist, but that the “primary threat will be to Western interests in the Muslim world.” Concluding, Gunaratna argued that it is crucial that partnerships be built with Muslim governments, NGOs, and communities, in order to fight terrorism.

Dr. Sergey Kurginyan – discussed aspects of stability and instability. Stability, he asked, who needs it? Everyone or almost everyone. Who needs instability? No one. Who really needs it? When at war with an enemy, Kurginyan argued, no one wants instability on their enemy’s territory, because it makes warfare more complicated. When in competition, however, Kurginyan maintain, “we want our competitor to be unstable.” There are special forms of competition called economic wars, energy wars, finance wars, etc. “The essence of these wars is that the competition is destabilized by any means possible, legal or otherwise.” This, he said, is not evil, but attracted by profit; “just business, nothing personal.” In terms of business, Kurginyan noted that there are two types: respectable and unrespectable. A respectable business may, at times, use unrespectable means. An unrespectable business, on the other hand, is engaged in illegal activity, like the drug business. Kurginyan noted that the production of drugs in Afghanistan, which totals 185 tons per year, profits $3 billion per year, and production is increasing. A drug cartel network, he stated, is system with a high level of centralization. This system, he contended, “wants and needs instability as demanded by the essence of the drug trade.” Why are drugs important? Because the barter of “drugs for weapons” yields terrorism. The larger the conflict, the more the need for weapons, drugs pay for weapons, and various terrorist groups use them to control the conflict. This, Kurginyan believes, is related to the concepts of a new world order and new world disorder. Who wants disorder? One chooses to manage disorder if one cannot manage order. There are two options in this competition, to develop faster, or to stop the development of the other. The latter technique develops “forces of instability” such as those “provided by radical Islam.” In such a situation one could, he noted, “meet them [radical Islam] and befriend them because you want to create more instability,” but this does not create development. Alluding to recent American postures towards Israel, he stated, “To become a friend of radical Islam in 2010, after fighting it for nine years is still possible, if you provide opportunities, by say betraying someone.”

Dr. Magnus Ranstorp –spoke of the European perspective on countering violent extremism in the E.U. “Europeans,” he said, “are perhaps more sensitive to the issues of its own communities and trying to differentiate and understand the different groups and different complexities that may exist in the different countries or states.” There is a need, Ranstorp contended, to understand the contextual complexity of terrorism, given that terrorism is difficult to predict, and has a “myriad of contexts and interrelated and interacting causes.” This, he said, causes a “wicked” problem. This is made even more apparent, he argued, when one attempts to take into account black swans, or “wild cards,” and the increased adaptability of terror groups. As a result, Ranstorp maintained, one cannot just look at the violence, but need understand the context. Part of this, Ranstorp argued is to understand the “strategic drivers that influence the changing security agenda. Globalization enables the real time spread of ideas and tactical thinking and practice. Technological advances act as catalysts for rapid societal change. Demography [changes] and refugees provide potential recruitment groups for terrorists,” and internal conflicts which spread outward and vice versa.

For more, you can follow the conference on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

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