The war on terror in ten easy questions

The war on terror in ten easy questions

29th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

The West has been fighting Islamic terrorism since the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington. Where do we stand now in 2011, the year that marks the tenth anniversary of the event?

Here are ten answers:

1. Which country has suffered the largest number of victims in ten years of war on terror?
No exact figures are available, but Iraq is clearly in first place. Wikileaks reports that nearly 110,000 Iraqis have been killed since the US-led invasion of their country in 2003. Since 2001, tens of thousands of people have been killed in Afghanistan, the second front in the war on terror. The struggle has also claimed thousands of lives in Pakistan, Yemen and the Russian Republic of Chechnya.

2. What was the worst terrorist attack since 9/11?
To many people that would be the hostage drama in School nr. 1 in Beslan, where Chechen terrorists seized hundreds of children on 1 September 2004. After three days, Russian troops stormed the building in an operation in which 330 people – most of them children – were killed. In October 2002, 202 people were killed in a series of bomb attacks on nightclubs on the Indonesian island of Bali. On 11 March 2004 four trains were the target of a terrorist attack in Madrid in which 191 people were killed and 1,800 injured. One year later, 56 people were killed in bomb attacks on public transport in London.

Russian Federation : A Russian special police soldier (L) carries an injured colleague as two soldiers and two women take cover behind the APC during the rescue operation of Beslan's school, northern Ossetia

3. Which terrorist leaders have been arrested?

The biggest catch was probably Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the brains behind the 9/11 attacks, who was also involved in other acts of terrorism. Khalid is being held in Guantanamo and may face the death penalty. French national Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker of 11 September, has been sentenced to life imprisonment by a US court. Noordin Mohammed Top of the militant Islamic organisation Jeemah Islamiyah – involved in the Bali bombings – was shot dead by Indonesian police officers in 2009. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, was killed in a US air strike in June 2006.

4. How many Dutch citizens were killed in ten years of terrorism?
On Dutch soil only film maker Theo van Gogh. The war in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of 24 Dutch soldiers, the earlier mission to Iraq two. Four Dutch nationals were killed in the Bali bombings and one in the 9/11 attacks.

5. Which civil freedoms have we lost?
Critics say the anti-terror laws are a threat to our privacy, our freedom of speech, to public debate and to press freedom. The Netherlands has seen the introduction of preventative frisking and a requirement to carry identification at all times. CCTV supervision has been substantially expanded. ‘Special powers of criminal investigation’, such as observation, infiltration and phone taps, are more easily used. Incitement to hatred or violence is no longer being tolerated. So-called ‘personal disruption’ has been introduced: making it clear to the social networks of suspected terrorists that they are under constant observation.

6. What has changed in the Netherlands?
The Netherlands now boasts a National Coordinator for Counterterrorism. And the Counterterrorism Alert System, intended to alert both the government and the business community in case of a possible terrorist attack. And then there is the DSI, the elite police counterterrorism force, which is to apprehend or stop potential terrorists ‘whatever the circumstances’.

7. Has it changed the Dutch political landscape?

On 9 September 2001, the country was being ruled by Prime Minister Wim Kok’s second cabinet, a stable majority coalition of the Labour Party, the conservative VVD and the democrat D66 party. The economy was in great shape and terrorism was not an issue.

Today, the Netherlands has a minority cabinet comprised of the conservative VVD and the Christian democratic CDA, supported by the right-wing, anti-Islamic Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders. It’s all about budget cuts and security these days. Anti-terror laws have been adopted and immigration and asylum laws tightened. Parliament now openly speaks of ‘Moroccan street terrorists’ (i.e.: maladjusted children of Moroccan immigrants) and burqa bans. Ten years ago, it would have been totally unacceptable to mention either subject.

Demonstration at the Dam square after Van Gogh was killed

8. Who is the biggest Dutch terrorist of the past ten years?
That would, without a doubt, be Mohammed Bouyeri, the man who killed filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Mohammed Bouyeri was eventually sentenced to life in prison. Number two would be the Hofstad Group, of which several members have been convicted, among other charges, for violently resisting the police during a raid in The Hague in 2004. However, no one has ever been found guilty of terrorism.

9. What was the biggest terrorist blunder of the past ten years?
Well, Richard Reid failed to detonate his shoe bomb on the plane. Or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who took so long to set off his explosive underwear that Dutchman Jasper Schuringa saw an opportunity to overpower him. On the other hand, plenty of people have been arrested on suspicion of terrorism, but were eventually found innocent. Large-scale police raids were mainly carried out in the United States and the United Kingdom, but on occasion also in the Netherlands.

In March 2009, all hell broke loose over exactly nothing when seven Dutch citizens of Moroccan descent were arrested on suspicion of planning to blow up an IKEA store. In November 2005, the police launched a major anti-terror operation when two Muslims dressed in djellabas went into a toilet on a train near Amsterdam. It turned out the two men simply wanted to perform a ritual cleansing. The biggest blunder ever was probably made by the London police, who shot dead Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes because they mistook him for a terrorist.

10. Where is Osama bin Laden?
Osama bin Laden is still a free man. If he is still alive, that is, because nobody really knows for sure. However, audio tapes attributed to him have regularly appeared on the internet. He is reportedly hiding out somewhere in northwest Pakistan, heavily guarded, and possibly under the protection of the Pakistani intelligence service. The FBI has put a prize of 25 million dollars on his head.

Marco Hochgemuth
Radio Netherlands


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