Georgia: situation through the spring

October 18th, 2009

From the RGCT Newsletter, 26 May 2009

Judging from the rhetoric and actions of Russia, it seems Moscow has not given up the aspirations that led to the war of last summer. Throughout the first half of the year, Russian policy towards Georgia and the rest of Russia’s so-called Near Abroad seemed to have three priorities or claims:

1) Russia has a sphere of interest, where it wants to be recognized as the sole and unchallenged hegemon. Georgia belongs to this sphere. Western powers and especially NATO should keep away from the Russian sphere of interest.

2) The sovereignty of the countries that happen to be located in the Russian sphere of interest must be limited and undermined. These countries must not be free to make their own decisions on matters of foreign policy and security. An excess of freedom and democracy only makes them choose the West instead of being led by elites loyal to Moscow. In the case of Georgia, the undermining of Georgia’s sovereignty has been manifest in the Russian massing of military power into Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and thereby further cementing Russian capture of these “independent” territories.

3) Russia must also prevail in the information war. This has meant a massive campaign of Russian propaganda and disinformation, unforeseen since the Soviet times, aiming at isolating and liquidating any objective account of history that would be “harmful for Russian interests”. In addition to Georgia, also the Baltic countries, Ukraine, Poland and other countries between Russia and Germany have become targets of this information war. New legislation has been passed, criminalizing any but pro-Moscow interpretation of history, and a “commission of historical truth” consisting of few historians but many Kremlin polit-technologists and security people has been established to safeguard the Kremlin’s imperial interests in shaping the world’s perceptions of history.

Everything in Moscow’s behaviour still suggests that Russia aims at a regime change in Tbilisi. It also must be assumed that Moscow has both the capacity and the political will to push for this goal, and no significant political restraints to prevent it from attempting to achieve the goal also through military provocations or violent subversive operations.

At the same time it appears clear that the shift of presidency in the United States did not, as some in Russia had probably hoped for, lead to naïveté concerning Russia’s aspirations. Instead, the Obama administration has continued to support Georgia’s sovereignty - to which extent Washington’s principles will hold is another question. Within the European Union, Poland has unsurprisingly taken up the role of a major defender of Georgia. Warsaw probably foresees that if Georgia would lose its sovereignty, Ukraine would be next in line.

The summer may become critical on the Georgian front. It adds to the probability of a renewed conflict if Russia, in its probing actions, senses any weakness or appeasement from the Western powers in regard to Georgia and Ukraine. President Obama has so far not yet been invited to his real foreign political test in fire, although he will undoubtedly face such tests from both Russia and Iran.

Once again the Russian celebrations of the “Victory Day” saw aggressive and often outrageous threats directed against Russia’s smaller neighbours.

From the beginning of May, Russia formally assumed the control of the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. President Dmitri Medvedyev signed agreements with the heads of the separatist administrations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity, in the Kremlin on 30 April 2009, in which the two separatist leaders agreed to subject the security and borders of their “countries” to Russia. Abkhazia additionally handed over the control of its Black Sea coast to Russia.

Moreover, the security and intelligence services of the separatist republics - the Abkhaz FSB and the South Ossetian KGB - were subjected to the Russian FSB. As a result of the agreement, Russian army and security services do not need any permissions from the separatist administrations for their free movement and operations in the two republics, whereas the Abkhaz and South Ossetian authorities need official Russian permission if they are to move close to the border areas or the Russian military and security bases, which are estimated to increase in great numbers in the future.

These concessions to Russia may seem dramatic at the first glance, but in fact they change nothing on the ground, compared with the de facto situation from the early nineties onwards, with Russian occupation troops doing as they please under the Orwellian cover of “peacekeeping”. The Kremlin’s agreements with Bagapsh and Kokoity were rather just necessary formalities after Russia had recognized these two entities as independent countries. The agreements may therefore provide new opportunities for bending international law and media perceptions. Such manipulation could later serve various scenarios similar to the “shots of Mainila” that were once used to launch the Winter War against Finland. Therefore elements of these agreements may appear in the future to “legitimize” further aggressions against Georgia.

The Abkhaz foreign minister Sergei Shamba has referred to five hundred Russian troops to be stationed along the land border of Abkhazia and Georgia, but the numbers are kept purposefully vague. Russia has announced it intends to station at least 10 000 troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and, in addition, to establish new military bases and in Abkhazia also a naval base.

The impact of all this militarization is suffered mainly by the ordinary people inhabiting the frontier area on both sides of the administrative border, since it will become even more difficult to keep contacts over the borderline. Thus, local mistrust is bound to increase and Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be ever more tightly isolated from any except Russian-controlled information. The “trust-building measures” that international organizations have called for in Tbilisi’s relations to its separatist regions will therefore become ever harder.

Leading Western powers have sought to take Russian belligerence into account, but with soft and cooperative means. The act that may have seemed symbolically the toughest was the implementation of a NATO military practise in Georgia from 6 May to 1 June. The practise, titled “Cooperation Longbow - Lancer 2009”, was planned long ahead - and long before the war of August 2008 - and there were expected to be around 1000 military personnel from 19 countries. The practise was open also to the non-members of NATO through the Partnership for Peace programme, part of which the practise was. NATO had also normalized its relations with Russia that were shortly frozen due to the summer 2008 war. The military practise in Georgia would concentrate in administrative and command structure cooperation in a crisis scenario, which would portray a UN-mandated NATO operation participated by PfP partners. The practise would take place in the Vaziani base twenty kilometres outside Tbilisi. One would not see any shooting in this practise, but rather computer simulations and group workshops.

Russia’s threats did not succeed in frightening off any of the crucial supporters of Georgia, although Kazakstan, Moldova and Serbia did remove themselves from the practise. As expected, Russia responded with harsh rhetoric. President Medvedyev called the practise a provocation and Foreign Minister Lavrov claimed it would destabilize the Caucasus. The Russian ambassador to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin, warned that Russia would remove itself from the NATO-Russia cooperative council. However, Russian removal from its NATO cooperation would be highly unlikely since Russia wants to have a say in NATO, which privilege is not shared by those neighbours of Russia that are not members of the alliance, like Georgia, Ukraine and Finland.

The Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze replied to Rogozin by stating that “as a sovereign nation Georgia has the right to host in its own territory whatever practises it wants, and Russia has the right to have its opinion about them. Russia would still do well if it, instead of commenting Georgia’s NATO practise, would start removing its occupation troops from Georgian territories.”

Since 9 April 2009, the Georgian extra-parliamentary opposition maintained street demonstrations against President Saakashvili and the Georgian government. The opposition coalition consists of 14-17 parties, mainly small, which have established in central Tbilisi a similar more or less permanently but lightly manned camp as Hizbullah and its allies had in central Beirut from December 2006 until May 2008. Also other tactics used by the Georgian extra-parliamentary opposition seem to repeat the models of counter-revolutionary tactics as tested in Lebanon. As soon as in 2004, in the aftermath of the Ukrainian events, Moscow polit-technologists created a conception out of “spreading our own orange revolutions wherever our hand can reach”.

However, the demonstrations of the Georgian radical opposition did not, throughout the first month, spread anywhere outside Tbilisi, and even in Tbilisi they did not gain as much crowd or enthusiasm as the opposition had hoped for.

The extra-parliamentary opposition in Georgia consists partly of dusky elements but mainly of genuine opposition parties, many of whom are by no means pro-Russian. They seem to have a problem with the personality of Saakashvili rather than with his actual policies. Many of Saakashvili’s former allies in the Rose Revolution now lead their own opposition parties and they are frustrated or feel sidelined from crucial positions in the administration. This development has been familiar also in the other aftermaths of coloured revolutions in Ukraine and Lebanon, where the democratic coalitions later proved tense and frictional. On the other hand, one cannot forecast any more solid unity for the current Georgian opposition in case that Saakashvili would really step down or consent to yet another early election, as the unconstitutional street parliament of the opposition now demands.

One of the more credible leaders of the current Georgian opposition for foreigners is probably the former foreign minister Salome Zurabishvili, who heads a party called “Georgian Way”. Mrs. Zurabishvili used to be moderate and constructive but according to several Georgia watchers she has recently become tempted to radical agitation. More moderate opposition is represented by the former diplomat Irakli Alasania, whose weakness may be limited backing in the streets. Other opposition leaders include Irakli Melashvili, the leader of “National Forum”, and a famous singer Gia Gachechiladze. One guess for Saakashvili’s successor has also been his one time partner in the Rose Revolution, former chairwoman of the parliament Nino Burjanadze. More radical nationalist opposition is represented by figures such as Saakashvili’s former defence minister Irakli Okruashvili, who was often criticized for his hawkish attitude towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

With its past policies on Georgia, Russia has managed to alienate most of the political field from its cause of regional hegemony. Now pro-Moscow elements can mainly be found among the Soviet-nostalgic far left and in the anti-Western and conspiratorial Orthodox far right. However, even though these rather marginal political camps may include many representatives of the former KGB and other secret services, it might prove impossible for them to mobilize any significant popular backing that would show in the polls. This is the main reason why the Russian interest in Georgia cannot be bound to normal constitutional shift of democratic mandate.

Russia’s problems with Georgia would not be fixed by simply defeating Saakashvili in a normal democratic election that might replace him with someone like Alasania, Zurabishvili or Burjanadze. As soon as any of them would have gained power, they would more or less continue along the lines of Saakashvili’s administration - driving reform policies and trying to engage Georgia with strong Western relations. From the Russian point of view, it would therefore be more desirable to back into power someone who has much more questionable legitimacy, and who would resort to authoritarian policies. This way, the leadership would depend on Russian backing for his power, and Georgia would be isolated from the West.

Moreover, Saakashvili has announced that he would give up power “in constitutional order” in 2012, when he would finish his second term. After all, Saakashvili won the previous early election, which was arranged in January 2008 due to the opposition’s protests of the late 2007. Saakashvili also clearly won the last parliamentary election. Both elections were considered free and fair by Western and independent observers. They were not without problems, but still fulfilled the standards of fair elections better than most elections in the former Soviet republics.

In early May, the situation escalated as some of the young mobs of the opposition beat up journalists working for pro-government media. This led to the arrest of three opposition activists, which served as an excuse for the opposition to storm police stations. The police responded with limited use of force and by protecting the assaulted media outlets, but the opposition still accused the police for arbitrary use of its powers, for beating up people etc. Although the three arrested opposition activists were soon released after an appeal from Patriarch Ilia II, the opposition accelerated its demands for Saakashvili’s resignation and early election. The opposition threatened with roadblocks that would paralyze traffic in the capital.

However, the opposition had not yet blocked the roads when the Ministry of Defence suddenly announced that Georgian security services had thwarted a plot for coup d’état. According to Defence Minister David Sikharulidze the scandal concerned a Russian-machinated military mutiny in the Mukhrovani base, thirty kilometres from Tbilisi. Government spokesman Shota Utiashvili told that the plot had aimed at sabotaging the NATO practise and “possibly” also at executing a military coup. Among evidence, the Ministry of Defence presented a secretly video-taped meeting where a former special troops commander Gia Gvaladze was seen explaining to a small group of men that the Kremlin would back a coup: “Russia will come to our aid; they’ll send 5000 troops.” Russia of course denied involvement in any such plot and the anti-Saakashvili opposition suspected the government had staged the mutiny just to divert attention from their protests.

On 11 May, Saakashvili and the speaker of the parliament David Bakradze met a delegation representing the opposition. So far the opposition had rejected repeated offers from the government for negotiations, maintaining their maximalist demands. In the meeting the opposition was represented by Salome Zurabishvili, Irakli Alasania, Levan Gachechiladze and Kakha Shartava. Zurabishvili and Alasania were already mentioned. Shartava represents Orthodox nationalist right, while Gachechiladze is considered as someone with hot temper. Although the meeting did not reach any actual agreement, Saakashvili considered the existence of dialogue as a victory for democracy, and warned that the path of radicalism had led to civil war in the 1990s.

Next week the opposition protests continued, physically much weaker as most of the protesters had gone home, but verbally increasingly radical. Only few hundred activists now manned the opposition camp in central Tbilisi. According to reports, they were paid 30 lari for day and food rations for nights. The opposition leaders repeatedly appealed on their supporters in media in order to make them start protests also outside the capital, but there were no reports to suggest such development ever took place. The opposition continued to enjoy free access to various Georgian media outlets as well as foreign ones.

A serious problem was constituted by the repeated threats of the opposition to block traffic and communications in and around Tbilisi, since this would cause serious negative consequences to Georgia’s economy and especially to the country’s Western relations, because such measures would damage the confidence of investors. Especially it would put into doubt Georgia’s ability to secure the important transit trade from Azerbaijan through Georgia into Turkey and vice versa. This trade route also includes the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline that passes through Georgia and constitutes the only eastern energy vein for Europe that is not controlled by Russia.

Russia, of course, would benefit from any damage caused to the trade passing through Georgia and bypassing Russia, and in fact, it would probably welcome any deterioration of Georgia’s economic situation. However, Armenia, one of Russia’s allies in the region, would suffer from the siege of Georgia, as the Armenian borders to Turkey and Azerbaijan remain closed due to the Karabagh conflict. Armenia’s land borders are only open to Georgia in the north and to Iran in the south. From Moscow’s point of view increasing Armenia’s hardship might be beneficial since it would make Armenia increasingly dependent on the Russian-controlled air bridge that Russia also uses to move troops and weapons into Armenia and towards Iran and the Middle East.

If the Georgian government would take up forceful measures to guarantee the functioning of its roads, ports and airports, even this could be useful for Russia, since it would then be able to provoke local conflicts within Georgia, thereby presenting Saakashvili’s administration in a negative light, as an “authoritarian” and “oppressive” regime. Such publicity would restrain Western solidarity and support to the democratically elected government of Georgia under the pressure of an extra-parliamentary regime change. Any escalation of forceful measures would also offer Russia new opportunities for military and clandestine operations against Georgia.

The government spokesman Shota Utiashvili warned that “if we come to see protracted roadblocks on our roads and railways, we will eventually have to take up measures to open them.” No doubt, for any government of any normal state, it would be considered legitimate to take up such measures in such situation, but when it comes to small Western-leaning countries under the Russian threat, it seems that any measure whatsoever would be considered “unwise”, “a grave mistake”, or “walking into the Russian trap”, if not downright “provocation” or “aggression”. It seems that when it comes to a country like Georgia or Estonia (as in the case of the bronze statue dispute), normal measures of guaranteeing law and order are not accepted by the international community. It often seems that for those countries to be acceptable in Western eyes, their democratically elected governments should only submit to Russian street mobs and gangsters or to capitulate when faced by provocations machinated from abroad.

On 19 May, opposition activists blocked for an hour the Kakhetian highway outside the city centre of Tbilisi, close by the new building of the Ministry of Interior. Their action caused a big traffic jam and small skirmishes between angry drivers. The police had strict instructions not to interfere by force. Mrs. Burjanadze showed up at the roadblock and declared in the national television that the block was a “warning”. She also claimed Georgia is a “police state”, which in the light of the events of the last months does not seem a justified accusation at all. The opposition also claimed that “as many as twenty” vehicles had been confiscated from them.

Later in May, Georgian police reportedly managed to thwart an attempt to blow up the trans-Georgian railway - which had obviously only recently been repaired after the Russians blew it up last summer. The director of the national railways Irakli Ezugbaya expressed his concern about the opposition’s threats against the railway. According to Ezugbaya, international oil companies and other strategic customers had already reduced their transport by Georgian railways and the daily cargo traffic had dropped 35 % since the opposition started its protests in early April.

The Georgian east-west traffic routes are very vulnerable, since they all pass along the Kura Valley through Greater Tbilisi, and South Ossetia, with its Russian outposts, poses a fundamental threat to Georgia’s unity, as it penetrates the core of the country in the middle. For example the mobility of the Georgian army from the centre and the east to address an armed machination taking place in the west could easily be blocked soon after the western outskirts of Tbilisi. It would be relatively easy to support an armed machination in let’s say Adjaria or Mingrelia from Abkhazia, or an Armenian machination in Djavakhetia. In such a situation, foreign supplies to Georgia could be blocked by a siege of the port of Poti.

Symbolically, it was the port of Poti where Saakashvili gave out a declaration that he would “not allow anyone any more cut Georgia’s transport routes to the world” and “turn our country to some kind of banana republic, where there are coups and extraordinary elections every year.”

Hizbullah plot in Egypt

October 18th, 2009

(From the RGCT Newsletter, 26 May 2009)

Arab governments are increasingly worried about the increased conspiratorial activity of the Lebanese Hizbullah in an ever wider area of the Middle East and Africa. Among Arab governments the only exception is Syria, where the ruling government is a close ally of Iran and therefore also of Hizbullah. Jordan and Saudi Arabia have stepped up efforts to counter the rising threat posed by Hizbullah, and the radical Shi’a movement’s political and strategic influence on their own domestic extremist groups. Morocco recently severed diplomatic relations with Iran.
One of the most recent scandals to enter publicity was the exposure of a considerable Hizbullah plot in Egypt. The Lebanese newspaper an-Nahar and the Egyptian al-Musawwir told that a Hizbullah cell had operated in the Sinai desert since 2003. It was led by a Lebanese citizen called Muhammad Yusef Mansur, who used the alias Sami Shihab. According to the Egyptian public prosecutor’s office, information found in Shihab’s computer led to the discovery of the members and activities of the cell. The cell was told to have received large amounts of money and weapons from Hizbullah, as well as training for intelligence and surveillance, secret communications, and terrorist tactics. At least 49 foreign Arabs, including at least Lebanese and Palestinians, were arrested as part of the Hizbullah network.
The enraged government of Egypt went public with accusations against Hizbullah for planned strikes against tourist targets in the Sinai Peninsula as well as against ships in the Suez Canal. Such plans, Egypt announced, could not be considered as resistance against Israel on behalf of the oppressed Gazans as Hizbullah and its defenders had claimed, but actions clearly targeted against the state of Egypt. In addition to Hizbullah, the accusing Egyptian finger has pointed at Iran, because according to Egyptian sources, such a wide conspiracy could not have depended on one single organization only, but on the background an Iranian hand was visible. Hizbullah was also told to have installed, on Egyptian territories, its own secret communications networks. This revelation interestingly links the Egyptian case to the question of Hizbullah’s role in the political assassinations in Lebanon.
It should be remembered that a year ago in May 2008, Hizbullah went into a small civil war against the state of Lebanon and its rival parties over the Lebanese government’s decision to ban Hizbullah’s illegal communications networks and electronic intelligence systems. The following violence forced the Lebanese government to back up in its demands, leaving Hizbullah’s expanding networks intact. Although Hizbullah to some extent accepts its position as one party among others in the Lebanese political system, it continues to reserve to itself a number of significant exceptions, such as its own private military structure - stronger than the official army of the country - and its sizeable and well organized intelligence and security service, which is used not only against Israel but against Arab rivals and political opponents, too.It was reported that Saudi Arabia has supported Egypt in the efforts to uproot Hizbullah’s cells. The Egyptian newspaper al-Masri al-Yum told that Saudi Arabia also handed over a suspect to Egypt. The suspect was told to be called Mus’ad ash-Sharif and he had worked two years in Saudi Arabia. Egypt has also asked several other Arab countries to assist it in the investigations of the Hizbullah plot, and it has specially appealed on Sudan, so that the latter would cooperate and arrest some of the members of the Egyptian Hizbullah cell residing on Sudan’s territory.
Hizbullah answered to the Egyptian accusations by admitting that the cell members, including Yusef Mansur, are indeed Hizbullah operatives. However, Hizbullah claimed their activities were related to anti-Israeli resistance and to the assistance of resistance activities in Gaza. The latter, in Hizbullah’s terminology, refers to Hamas.
As if to demonstrate its position, the Egyptian government as represented by Foreign Minister Ahmad Abul-Gheit and the highest religious authorities in Egypt received Ali al-Amin, mufti of Tyre and one of the most remarkable Shi’ite religious authorities in Lebanon. At the meeting, Egypt praised Amin for his moderate stand and vowed respect to the Shi’ites of Lebanon. The importance of this meeting lies in the fact that Amin has for a long been one of the most prominent Shi’a figures in Lebanon who have dared to publicly criticize Hizbullah and Hasan Nasrallah’s way of politicizing Shi’ism. One year ago in May 2008, during Hizbullah’s armed operation, Hizbullah also raided Amin’s office and announced that Amin was “fired” from the position of the mufti of Tyre, although Hizbullah has no formal right or religious authority to do so.
According to the Lebanese newspaper al-Mustaqbal, five months before this Egypt also arrested four Iranian intelligence officers who were setting up an intelligence network in Egypt. According to the newspaper the group was led by an officer called Mohammed Alameddin, who had arrived in Egypt in summer 2006 under an Iraqi passport and different name, then infiltrating the Iraqi refugee community. Egypt exchanged the arrested spies with six Egyptians who had been kidnapped in Iraq.
The most powerful opposition force in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood (a wide and rather diverse Islamist organization), has reacted in the defence of Hizbullah’s plot and announced that Egypt should rather be grateful than condemning for the fact that Hizbullah had extended its heroic resistance to Egyptian territory. According to the “supreme guide” of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mahdi Akif, Nasrallah has only done what the Egyptian government was incapable of doing: defending the Palestinian resistance. On the other hand, it was reported that within the Muslim Brotherhood there were also disputes, as one camp strongly defended the Shi’ite Hizbullah while another camp adopted a hostile position. A week later Egyptian authorities arrested fourteen Muslim Brotherhood members for their suspected roles in the plot. The group was said to be headed by Osama Nasir.
Akif also fiercely attacked the Arab governments, accusing them for being “more Zionist than the Zionists themselves”. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Egypt was of course a horror for him; rather, Akif would have liked to see the Egyptians on barricades against President Hosni Mubarak. Akif also considered there was no difference between Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas - they were all the same. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, according to Akif, was in the same front with Hizbullah and Hamas, whereas Fatah, the party represented by Abbas, is “traitor to the Palestinian cause”.

Muslim Brotherhood also rejected President Obama’s initiatives for a peace in the Middle East, as well as his openings to Syria, Iran and Jordan. The deputy head of the organization Muhammad Habib suspected that the only reason for these openings by Obama was Washington’s desire to make these states better serve United States interests, where the primary objective still was to ensure the security and regional supremacy of the Zionist entity.

Mumbai bombings mark escalation in India’s terrorist threat

November 27th, 2008

On the 26th of November at 10.15 pm local time a series of terrorist attacks took place in Mumbai, India. According to news reports the attacks, which were directed against at least 6 different targets, left no less than 80 people dead and 250 wounded. At the time of writing the terrorists are holding at least 100 people hostage in three different locations and the situation is ongoing. Among the targets were two five star hotels, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station, a posh café / restaurant favoured by tourists, a hospital and a domestic airport. All targets seem to lie close to each other.

India is no stranger to terrorism since between 2004-2007 nearly 3700 people were killed in terrorist attacks across the country conducted by separatist, (Hindu-) nationalist or radical islamist terrorist groups. Strikingly, only Iraq suffered more terrorism related casualties during the same time span.

In the last two years there have been several devastating terrorist attacks in India, which have been linked to radical islamist terrorists. These attacks include:

-       The July 2006 Mumbai train bombings which killed 180 persons,

-       The February 2007 bombing against the “Friendship train” between India and Pakistan which claimed the lives of 65 people,

-       The August 2007 bombings in Hyderabad against a popular restaurant and a movie theatre leaving 42 people dead.

The usual suspects in terrorist attacks in India are Pakistani and Bangladeshi linked militant groups such as “Lashkar-e-Taiba” and “Harakat-ul-Jehadi Islami”. Until recently, India has seen radical islamist terrorism as an imported problem linked to its rivalry with Pakistan and the Kashmir issue. Indeed India’s minority of 150 million Muslims has been generally well-integrated. Indian Muslims have been noteworthy absent from the battlefields of Afghanistan or al-Qai’da –linked terrorist plots. However, since 2007 a new trend of home grown islamist terrorists has been emerging. Not to dismiss the Pakistan linked groups completely, this particular attack was most probably conducted by the home grown Indian Mujahedeen.  In fact, the Indian Mujahedeen threatened in September to attack Mumbai.

Some Indian security analysts have traced the roots of the Indian Mujahedeen to the banned Students Islamist Movement of India while others have seen the Indian Mujahedeen as a front for Pakistani and Bangladeshi militant groups. According to recent reports, a previously unknown group, Deccan Mujahedeen, has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Although it is impossible to verify this claim, it underlines the likelihood that indeed radical islamists are responsible for the attack. The name Deccan Mujahedeen follows a rather typical logic of islamist terrorists: a previously unknown name has a stronger psychological effect in creating the impression of ever growing number of terrorist groupings. It additionally creates confusion among security authorities and analysts.

The Mumbai attacks are most likely the latest in a string of terrorist attacks claimed by the Indian Mujahedeen.

In November 2007 the rather unknown group took responsibility of a string of attacks in Varanas, Faizabad and Lucknow. Six months later on May 13th 2008, at least 65 persons were killed in Jaipur in a series of bombings against markets and the popular tourist site of Hawa Mahal, “Temple of winds”.  On July 26th over 50 people were killed and 200 wounded in 19 bomb explosions and car bombings in Ahmedabad. The attacks were conducted in two waves with the second wave targeting security- and emergency authorities. The Indian Mujahedeen took responsibility for the attacks stating that the attacks were a response to the 2002 Gujarat pogroms, when Hindu extremists massacred approximately 2000 Muslims in an outburst of communal violence. On September 13th the attacks continued with a series of bombings in the centre of Delhi. The bombs, which killed at least 24 persons, were planted in shopping malls and business districts. One of the bombs was placed near one of Delhi’s most popular tourist attractions, the “Indian Gate”. The bombs were identically manufactured with the other bombs found in Jaipur and Ahmedabad.

Unlike the large number of previous and somewhat similar attacks, the latest attacks were conducted with a vastly different modus operandi. While the previous attacks were conducted by using bombs and improvised explosive devices mainly against soft targets such as market places and religious sites, the attacks of November 26th were targeted against harder and better secured targets using small arms and grenades. Most of the strikes seem to have been aimed to incite communal violence between India’s Hindus and Muslims. In contrast to earlier attacks in which the victims have indiscriminately been mainly Indian citizens, westerners seem to have been the primary target in the attacks of November 26th. It seems that the “Indian Mujahedeen”, or at least the most radical elements of it, have recognized that the attempts to incite religious violence have not produced expected results, and have therefore shifted to more radical tactics aiming for maximum international attention.

This time the Mumbai attacks were conducted by terrorists who obviously knew that they would most probably get killed or caught in the operation. The amount of well secured targets indicates that the attack was carried out by an unusual large number of determined attackers. This further suggests that the operation needed to be patiently planned and coordinated. It is highly unlikely that any other than a home grown terrorist group could have mobilized such a number of dedicated terrorists and been able to strike with such precision against such difficult targets.

Reports of attackers trying to single out American and British nationals strongly indicate a radical islamist motivation. This, together with tactics used (well coordinated, simultaneous attacks) shows at least al-Qa’ida’s ideological influence to the attackers. It is also possible that members of al-Qai’da or al-Qai’da linked persons have contributed to the planning, coordination and training of the attackers.

According to latest reports the head of Mumbai’s anti-terror branch and his closest aides are among the casualties. Interestingly in Iraq al-Qai’da has used and developed similar methods – sophisticated and bold attacks with small arms fire and grenades – for the past year against high profile targets, such as the awakening council leaders. The RGCT has anticipated similar tactics to spread to the toolkit of terrorists worldwide and to be used alongside and in addition to the conventional bombings and IED attacks against civilian targets.

The fact that the terrorists are holding such a large number of hostages makes it plausible to assess that taking hostages was in fact a part of the initial operational plan. Many of the hostages are probably westerners and this indicates that the message of these latest attacks is aimed first and foremost to the international community. It is also a clear attempt to harm India’s tourism sector and generally India’s economy. The attack will undoubtedly also have an impact on India’s internal politics, strengthening Hindu nationalists which have accused the Indian government of inadequate measures against radical islamists. Indeed, India’s lack of success in solving and prosecuting past terrorist attacks has not been encouraging.

Finland is having difficulties in defining and condemning the attack against the Turkish Embassy in Helsinki

October 26th, 2008

A wider pattern emerging?


The arson attack in Helsinki has to be put into its wider context. A quick open source survey from the past week shows a common pattern emerging in anti-Turkey actions in Europe:


-      On Friday (17.10.08) in Vienna, Austria Kurdish activists tried to storm the UN-City. The demonstrators stated that their aim was to hand out a petition on behalf of the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and to raise international awareness.


-      In Basel, Switzerland, one person was injured (18.10.08) when four attackers threw two Molotov cocktails around 01:30 am into a café. According to the Basel Attorney-General, the four suspects escaped. The exploding Molotov cocktails set fire to the clothes of several of the 18 guests at the café. The attacked café is a well known meeting point for local Turks. According to the Basel police, local residents suspect PKK for the attack. Another likely PKK motivated attack occurred in the same night in Bern, when a Turkish owned travel agency was set on fire. The police is investigating whether the attacks in Bern and Basel are connected.


-      On Sunday night (19.10.08) around 04:25 am, the Turkish consulate in Salzburg, Austria, was attacked, according to the Salzburg police spokesman, with a “fire bomb”. In the attack in Salzburg, a window was broken and a Molotov cocktail thrown into the building.  Fire fighters, who quickly put out the flames, said they found in one room stones and fragments from a broken bottle that could have contained a flammable substance.


-      Later on Sunday evening (19.10.08) in Vienna-Hernals, a Sport- and cultural centre, “Selçüklü Teşkilati” was attacked with two Molotov cocktails around 23:00 pm. Nobody was injured, but the head of the Centre stated, that he is now “fearing for his life”. The authorities believe the attackers were Kurdish extremists.  


-      On Sunday evening (19.10.08) around 22:00 pm, two Turkish owned firms, a fruit shop and a travel agency were attacked in Hamburg, Germany. In both attacks, the windows were broken and Molotov cocktails were thrown in. German security service and the national criminal police are investigating: it is suspected that both attacks are connected to a protest action of around 700 PKK supporters, who earlier during the day protested against the alleged mistreatment of Abdullah Öcalan.   


-      On Monday (20.10.08) around 13:00 pm, 200 demonstrators protested in Helsinki, Finland, against the prison conditions of Abdullah Öcalan.


-      On Tuesday night (21.10.08) at around 03:00 am, four young men attacked the Turkish embassy in Helsinki with at least one Molotov cocktail. One embassy member was slightly injured after inhaling smoke from the fire. Finnish police arrested the four suspects early in the morning with the help of an eyewitness. A fifth suspect was arrested later.



Interestingly, Austria, Finland and Switzerland share some common characteristics. First of all, the three countries in question share a tradition as “neutral” countries. Secondly, in comparison to Germany, were there has been attacks against Turkish interests every now and then (according to Interpol, in the year 2007, there were 15 attacks against Turkish interests in Germany, mostly arson attacks), Austria, Finland and Switzerland have been largely spared from attacks like these. In the Finnish context, Finnish police agreed that Tuesday night’s arson attack was an escalation from the usual small scale vandalism of throwing eggs and painting graffiti’s.    


Austrian ministry of interior has stated that it is suspecting that PKK sympathizers are involved in the arson attacks, due to their timely connection to the other attacks across Europe. However, while not ruling out a political motive, the Finnish police have been playing down the significance of the arson attack by stating that the suspected four arsonists were “quite young”. According to Finnish media, the arrested are between 16-20 -years old, with a Turkish Kurdish background and Finnish nationality. All live in the Helsinki, the capital area.


An act of terrorism


According to a traditional interpretation, an act of terrorism demands an actor, an objective, a strategy, a tactic as well as a target. The Molotov cocktail attack against the Turkish embassy in Finland meets these demands.


An act of terrorism naturally requires an actor. The criteria for actor are met whether the perpetrators belong directly to a terrorist organisation or act as a small collection of individuals who are influenced by the aims of a terrorist organisation or its leaders. Most propably the perpetrators of the embassy attack were symphatizers of PKK and not hardcore members of the organisation itself.


The attack that took place on 21st of October 2008 at early morning was a part of a larger strategy to further tarnish Turkey’s image as the sole “bad guy” of the Turkey-PKK conflict. The tactical element of a violent act that constitutes an act of terrorism is usually easier to point out. Terrorist acts are always violent in nature wheter perpetrators actually commit violent acts or threatnen with them. Most often the tactic used violates the accepted rules and norms of the society at hand. The tactic in the embassy attack was an attempt to set the Turkish embassy on fire by using Molotov cocktails and is, as pointed out earlier, a continuum of attacks elsewhere in Europe. And for the Finnish society attack with potentially lethal force against an embassy did come as unanticipated.


The attack had a clear target as well: the Turkish Embassy in Finland and more broadly the state of Turkey. Thus the message was aimed beyond the immediate victim, typical for manifestion through an act of terrorism. The target selection and the manifestation of the attack through the earlier anti-Turkish demonstration can be assumed to be directed at Turkey but intended for international and Finnish audience as well. The perpetrators and sympathizers will argue that this is an extension of separatist war waged against Turkey. It is true that the line between insurgent and terrorist attacks have become greyer than ever due to an increasing amount of attacks against civilian targets in conflict zones as well. Finland, however, is neutral ground, and a state of war or a state of emergency are not current, which makes the distinction clear. Finland authorities also have obligation to protect the foreign embassies and their staff as well as civilians (whether foreign or native) on Finnish territory.


The attack was somewhat of a failure since it did not spark a larger media attention and shock reaction so vital to terrorist acts. Demystification of course, is important in minimizing the effects of terrorist acts, but it should not however lead to the belittlement of the seriousness of such acts. To not call the embassy attack an act of terrorism works well for the perpetrators since it probably gives sympathy in some form by the public for the “desperate” attack against a stronger aggressor. Perpetrators of terrorist acts usually don’t accept the label of terrorism since it inevitably has a negative connotation. They prefer themselves as fighters of a just cause and as if they were forced to act by global or local injustice. Even though there is no reason to provoke panic of fear, downplaying the attack also gives a false sensation that the reasons behind the attack lie solely outside of our sphere of influence or that it was just a single desperate and even justified act. In modern society it should already be clear that the official newspaper- and tv-orientated media is not the only source to manifest a message violently or set an example for future action. Internet forums, for example, are an active channel for discussing, debating and spreading radical ideas and tactics. It is of utmost importance to condemn the embassy attack strongly and to acknowledge it as a terrorist attack even if it failed, since this will set a strong message that this type of action will not be tolerated. Condemning it strongly will also effectively diminish the glorification of the attack. There is nothing glamorous of being judged as a criminal.


It serves the PKK’s larger objective, which is to create an independent socialist state of Kurdistan and/or to materialize the PKK’s vision of political and cultural rights of Kurds in Turkey, that symphatizers commit acts of terrorism outside the borders of Turkey under the eyes of an international audience. It is relevant to remember that by acts of terrorism power can be created or consolidated where there is none or little. Acts of terrorism after all are necessarily political in aims and motives. In the case of the embassy attack this is not diminished by the fact that perpetrators were young, between 16 and 20 years of age. In comparison, the average age of global jihadists in recent years has gone down from 26 to 20.


What does not define terrorism however, is the amount of victims. Neither is terrorism defined by the thoroughness of the plan or by the perfection of the execution of that plan. What does constitute an act of terrorism on its part is the perpetrators’’ aim, their motivation and the single act manifestating the larger objective, since terrorism ultimately is not a spontaneous act, and has to have altruistic motives and objectives. In this context it is important to recognize the significance of the demonstration held in front of the Turkish embassy in Finland even if the attackers didn’t participate in it nor had direct link with it. Since it is enough to constitute an act of terrorism if perpetrators are influenced or motivated by the objectives and ideologies of an existing terrorist organization or its leaders. Ultimately an act of terrorism aims to cause repercurssions beyond its immediate victim or target and as part of this aim the political motivation for the Molotov cocktail attack can be discovered by acknowledging the role of the demonstration, and thus more broadly the influence of the PKK.


The attack should raise a larger question: what led these perpetrators to use such a radical method as part of a political manifestation, which prior to 21st of October was so untypical to Finnish society. And more importantly what and who will follow, since now that this vice is out of Pandora’s Box, it cannot be forced back in.