Countering New-Style Terrorism: Leveraging On Rehabilitation, Local And International Cooperation


Terrorist attacks such as September 2011 in the United States (9/11) and the attacks in Spain (11th March 2004) and Britain (7th July 2005) have marked the dawn of global terrorism (Martin, 2004). In this new era, terrorism is increasingly seen in a different dimension than traditionalists’ objectives, as it knows no bounds and no boundaries (Netanyāhû,1981). New-style terrorism is attributed to the effects of globalisation (Giddens, 2005). In contrast to the old-style terrorism, with its localised objectives within traditional nationalist ideology (Pojman, 2006), new-style terrorism represents a network of actors stretching across many countries with ideological-based geopolitical drivers rather than mere national ambitions, using the mass media and willing to cause greater damage in the pursuit of its cause (Sanchez, 2009).

While acknowledging that terrorism is not a new phenomenon, new-style terrorism is very much international in nature (Netanyāhû,1981). Increasingly, the repeated use of ideopolitical driven violence by non-state actors affecting multiple states is being witnessed around the world (Ozeren et al, 2007). The purported objective of this current wave of ideopolitical terrorism is the restructuring of the new world society; that is, recreating an Islamic society stretching from the Indian subcontinent into Europe (Giddens & Griffiths, 2006). Consequently, instead of immediate, localised political objectives, new-style terrorism is more associated with long-term fundamentalist goals in the name of a hijacked religion, drawing its support and sponsorship from countries and organisations not necessarily focused on competitive national or alliance power politics. Furthermore, new-style terrorism is far more ruthless in its targeting of innocent parties towards achieving and advertising its goals (Aubrey, 2004). Through international violence, new-style terrorists believe they can finally attract world-wide attention and support to themselves and their cause (Hoffman, 2006).

While the central theme of new-style terrorism lies in an ideological driver to create an Islamic state (Helsloot et al, 2012), such terrorism is not based on the Islamic religion, as stating such implies that all Muslims are terrorists (Salhani, 2011), which is far from the case. Instead, the Islamic State (ISIS), which has been increasingly seen as the face of new-style terrorism (Ubeysekera, 2016), has conveniently and cleverly used it as an ideology with radical interpretations to reach its political objectives (Ozeren et al, 2007).

Further cementing changes in new-style terrorism are technological shifts in society, amplifying both the causal message and recruitment strategies through advancements in internet communications, especially social media, along with the volumes of available open source information, which combined have changed the very nature of terrorism (Akhgar et al, 2015). The internet facilitates connections and also affords a degree of anonymity, while sharing information on weapons and recruiting tactics, arranging surreptitious cross border fund transfers and attack planning (Mentan, 2004). Consequently, the same aspects that make cyberspace attractive for individuals, businesses and governments also makes such connectivity attractive for terrorist groups (Silke, 2003). Through the use of technological advancements, ideological framed messages of oppression and revolution have been the key drivers of radicalisation, acknowledging that individuals are more likely to become terrorists if they agree that any form of violence is legitimate (Committee, 2012) in the furtherance of their cause.

Rapid technological changes have provided the contemporary settings and avenues for such radical messages to flourish. Previously, individuals may have thought twice before sharing extremists’ views. However, the advent of the internet, and in particular social media platforms, has provided individuals the confidence through collaboration, sharing of ideas and files with like-minded extremists, ultimately leading to violent acts (Torok, 2016). Increasingly, through various forms of social media and isolated chat rooms, terrorists are able to target and exploit the vulnerabilities of those disaffected and marginalised individuals in society, recruiting and radicalising pliable persons. This has led to an increasing trend in individuals leaving their country to fight in Syria, or at home, engaging in lone-wolf plots and attacks across the world, such as Ottawa’s Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Sydney’s Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar.

Due to structural and technical shifts in terrorism, there have been substantial changes to the global security landscape. In the name of security, new laws and legislation to counter terrorism have been enacted, such as the USA’s Patriot Act and cybersecurity legislation. While this has led to controversies, with critics arguing that such laws are overly broad and may erode fundamental freedoms along with the role of the independent judiciary (Fu et al, 2005), heinous events like 9/11 have created significant social and political pressures to use all available tools to identify, locate and interdict terrorists before they repeat such actions in the future (Nunn, 2003), termed pre-emptive security. Nevertheless, such anti-terrorism laws, while controversial, have seen successful cases. For example, Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA), legislation originating from British colonial days to counter violence by pro-Malayan communists, empowers the government to detain and suspend a person of his normal right of a court trial with possible extensions of a two-year detention order. The Singapore government has used the ISA for the preventive detention, but with a rehabilitation focus, of alleged terrorists. Under Singapore’s comprehensive rehabilitation program, consisting of religious counselling by volunteer Islamic scholars, psychological counselling to cope with stress, community involvement and family support (Rabasa et al, 2010), this approach has seen 80 percent of the 72 people detained under the ISA for terrorism-related activities since 2002 released and re-integrated back into society (Channel NewsAsia, 2016), indicating a degree of effectiveness in the strategy.

Given the unknown and evolving threats posed by new-style terrorism, the counterterrorism narrative has provided new impetus for effective local, regional and international cooperation (Van den Herik & Schrijver, 2013). For instance, in Singapore at the local level, businesses and private individuals have also been more willing to cooperate and collaborate with the security agencies. This can be seen where non-security staff such as check-in staff, taxi handlers and cleaners were roped in and trained to identify anyone or anything amiss at Singapore Changi airport (Heng, 2015). Moreover, the limited capabilities of an individual country to fight this new-style terrorism has heightened the importance of international cooperation and intelligence sharing (Orttung & Makarychev, 2006). While countries have been previously reluctant to volunteer and share information or intelligence due to the need to preserve counter-technologies or political rivalry (Centre of Excellence Defence Against Terrorism, 2007), the adoption of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (UNGCTS) in September 2006 by the UN General Assembly paved the way for increased cooperation among member countries. Increasingly, agreements on international cooperation have been signed, such as the agreements between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the USA, Japan and Australia on the sharing of information to fight against terrorism (Beyer, 2010). In Singapore, the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research was formed to facilitate this sharing and capacity building where it aims to reduce the threat of violent extremism using a three-pronged approach: conducting research for current and emerging terrorist threats through a global pathfinder database; specialist training for law enforcement officers; and performing strategic counterterrorism projects, including ideological, legislative and development initiatives (Combs, 2015).

The asymmetric nature of new-style terrorism has presented new and difficult challenges for countries and security agencies. The challenge has been compounded given the advent of information technology brought about by increased globalisation. Hence, terrorists’ extremist ideologies have spread easily among individuals and communities and this has resulted in more self-radicalised individuals and terrorist cell groups sprouting in different geographical locations. Nevertheless, given the success exemplified by Singapore to date, perhaps the answer to combat this new-style terrorism lies in a comprehensive rehabilitation program and leveraging on local and international cooperation. Consequently, it could be argued that to counter the radical messages amplified through the mass media and internet, an extension of the approaches globally could help counter the threat of online radicalisation.

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Marcus Toh holds a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Business and Management Studies from University of Bradford and has over 10 years’ experience in the security industry. He is currently completing his Master of Security Management program at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia.

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