In a daring daylight raid on January 7, three masked jihadi terrorists armed with AK-47s and shouting "Allahu Akbar" massacred 12 people (ten journalists, including the editor) and two policemen in the office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical Paris weekly. The successful lightning operation was over in five minutes indicating the high level of terrorists' training, planning, and execution.
After the raid, the gunmen escaped in a car. A cartoonist who was forced to let them in said they spoke fluent French and claimed to belong to al Qaeda.
Charlie Hebdo had been lampooning all religions and political parties in its cartoons. An hour before the attack its Twitter had carried a cartoon making fun of ISIS' self-proclaimed caliph Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi. Extremists had firebombed its office in 2011 after it published a cartoon on the Prophet.
Police were aware of a terrorist threat to the magazine and provided a police bodyguard to its editor Stephane Charbonnier, the main target of the attack. Terrorists killed the police bodyguard first before shooting down the editor.
Police are on the lookout for the three suspected gunmen - Said and Cherif Kouachi, brothers, and Hamid Mourad an 18-year-old, for carrying out the worst ever terrorist attack in France. Cherif was jailed for three years for taking part in an Iraqi jihadi network dismantled by police in Paris in 2008.
What can we as a nation learn from the Paris massacre to successfully deal with jihadi terrorism? Here are some home truths:
- Terror semantics: There are no "good" or "bad" terrorists. It is probably alright for Pakistan and the US, which get cozy with terrorist groups, but not for us. Let us not quibble with the home ministry semantics of "extremists", "militants"," "insurgents" or talk of politicising terrorism. Terrorism has been politics all along and in some cases part of international diplomacy. The time for politically correct terminology became passé after the 26/11 attacks. Security agencies must treat all extremist acts as terrorist acts till proved otherwise. Politicians must not get cozy with terrorists for a few more votes (will the Punjab CM note please?); its dangerous. Terrorists have no loyalty.
- Jihadi terror is universal: Jihadi terrorists are no more Arabic or Urdu speaking turbaned guy drawn from the Hollywood classic "Seven Pillars of Wisdom." He comes from all over the world; he can be westernised, fluent in many languages and trained in warfare.
So we should make our verification procedures real time and universal. In Eastern India let us puncture the myth of poor illegal immigrants. Even among those who look helpless and poor, there could be terrorists. Our border security and customs agencies should get cracking on them, rather than cashing on them.
- What's in a name? Chou en Lai once said it does not matter whether the cat is black or white as long as it catches mouse. This is what the jihadi philosophy is all about. The Jihaid cat regardless of its colour is out to kill. It makes no difference whether it belongs to ISIS or Al Qaeda or LeT or Jaish, for that matter SIMI also. All of them are deadly terrorists.
- Keeping tab of terrorism suspects: One of the Paris massacre culprits Cherif Kouachi was arrested and punished in May 2008 for being a part of Iraqi Jihadi group. He served a three-year jail term. Yet he could join other jihadists to merrily raid his target protected by the police. Here the situation is no better. We just don't have enough policemen to protect all the potential targets or terrorists before the balloon goes up. Police must network with civilians to get them to pass on any acts of suspicion. Whither the days of the paan chewing beat policemen who used to chit-chat with us and get all the information? Can the police sort out their rather primitive public communication to make it more regular, innovative and appealing to the people?
- Providing security: It appears to be a standard operative procedure that all ministers and netajis should have a posse of gun toting khaki clad "body guards" around them even if some of them are out on bail in criminal cases. The poor editor, killed in the Paris massacre, had a police body guard.
It did not help either the editor or the policeman. Both were shot. Let us bust the myth of gun toting paunchy guys providing protection. We need to prune our security lists and tighten protection for real targets and not for cha-chas, bathijas and damaads (lest I forget). Then only the guards can be trained to develop their skills rather than a paunch.
[Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Blog: http://col.hariharan.info]