9/11: Never Forget | Daily News

9/11: Never Forget

September 11, 2001: Twenty years ago to the day, four civilian airliners are hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists on US soil. Two of them ram into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan. Another nosedives into the Pentagon. The fourth airliner, probably headed for the White House, crashes - as the hijackers are overpowered by passengers. More than 3,000 people are dead. The world wakes up to the sheer senselessness of terrorism, realising that not even the most powerful nation is immune to its devastating reach and effects. The whole world is stunned by the terror attack, relayed live to millions of TV screens.

As France’s Le Monde put it, the whole world became Americans that fateful day. We Sri Lankans did not need any soul-searching to become “Americans” - having experienced the disastrous consequences of terrorism for nearly two decades. Sri Lankans were just coming to terms with the LTTE attack on the BIA on July 24, 2001 when 9/11 happened. It was a sense of deja vu, though on a much bigger scale.

It would not be wrong to say that 9/11 changed the world. It marked the beginning of a ‘War on Terror’ that is still going on, though it is not without its distractions and faults. One example is the US and Allies’ foray into Iraq in search of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). None was found. The only result was the ripping apart of Iraq to shreds, along with the deaths of thousands and the birth of a terror movement (ISIS) which is even worse than al-Qaeda, blamed for the 9/11 attacks.

Similar events took place in Syria and Libya, both of which are a mere shadow of the mighty countries they once were. Drone warfare was another extension of the War on Terror. While the operators of armed drones sitting thousands of kilometres away often got their targets (terrorist hideouts or vehicles) right, there was also a high rate of civilian casualties, somewhat disdainfully called ‘Collateral Damage’.

Perhaps the most spectacularly successful operation against any terror group was the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the main architect of 9/11, in Pakistan by US Navy Seals in an ultra-secret operation 10 years ago. Just two years earlier, Sri Lanka had crushed the LTTE militarily. Since these events took place, many high profile terrorist leaders have been killed mostly in drone attacks.

The events of 9/11 also marked the beginning of a wider debate on religious extremism. Given that the terrorists involved in the 9/11 carnage were Islamic extremists who had misused the very name of their religion (Islam means peace), tensions arose in the West between Muslim and other communities. The radicalisation of Muslim youth via online and other methods remains a huge problem, as Sri Lanka experienced on Easter Sunday 2019. The recent attack on shoppers in Auckland by a man of Sri Lankan origin is another case in point. The Bataclan attacks trial, now underway in Paris, is another stark reminder that warped minds are capable of the most inhuman atrocities.

Sri Lanka always advocated a more pro-active approach towards terrorism, a cause that had only a few backers, including the US itself and India, until 9/11. These two countries had already banned the LTTE and a host of other terrorist organisations. Yet, global action against terrorism was slow-moving and several important anti-terror conventions remained without being ratified. The LTTE and other extremist/terrorist organisations had a free run in many countries, including in Europe.

Post 9/11, this picture changed drastically with Governments around the world clamping down on all forms of terror. Many other countries suffered terrorist atrocities - the bus explosions in London and the train bombing in Madrid come to mind - but the global resolve to fight terror has not diminished. Cutting off terrorist finances and money laundering avenues has become one of the most effective ways of strangling terror groups, even more effective than direct physical attacks.

One adage must be kept in mind when dealing with terrorism: Governments have to be lucky all the time, but terrorists have to be lucky only once or according to a popular saying in Afghanistan, “you have the watches, we have the time”.

Constant vigilance and intelligence gathering on a global level are the keys that can unravel the terrorists’ abominable designs to cause mayhem and destruction. International cooperation and Intelligence gathering is also vital as terrorists are now essentially transnational and cooperate with each other.

Today, many countries such as Iraq have become breeding grounds for a new generation of hardcore insurgents. The world is also keenly watching the developments in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is back in power. The emergence of the ISIS-K branch there is a cause for concern, apart from the fact that the Taliban victory can embolden other terror groups in the region. There are also reports from India that some remnants of the LTTE are aiming for a revival.

Sri Lankan Security and Intelligence authorities must follow these developments closely and collaborate in international efforts to defeat all forms of terrorism.

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