Ter­ror­ist groups are aware of the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of ship­ping and mar­itime in­fra­struc­ture

New Straits Times - - Opinion - an­drin.raj@iac­spsea.com An­drin Raj is the South­east Asia re­gional di­rec­tor for the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Coun­tert­er­ror­ism and Se­cu­rity Pro­fes­sional-Cen­tre for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies, Kuala Lumpur, and is also a na­tional se­cu­rity and coun­tert­er­ror­ism exp

THE Sea Lanes of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, or the mar­itime mi­lieu, has been re­ferred to as “ground zero” of the asym­met­ric se­cu­rity threats, such as piracy, ter­ror­ism and or­gan­ised crime.

The low in­ten­sity of mar­itime op­er­a­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties of asym­met­ric non-state ac­tors has emerged over the years and has cre­ated a plat­form for mar­itime se­cu­rity threats.

His­tor­i­cally, mar­itime ter­ror­ism is rare and it con­sti­tuted about three per cent of in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity threats over the past decades.

The rea­son is that op­er­a­tions at sea re­quire spe­cial­ist skills, equip­ment and re­sources. These is­sues con­strain ter­ror­ists tac­ti­cally and, hence, pre­vent them from car­ry­ing out op­er­a­tions at sea.

How­ever, there is in­di­ca­tion that ter­ror­ist groups are set­ting their fo­cus on vul­ner­a­ble tar­gets at sea and port ar­eas. There is a grow­ing con­cern, al­though fixed land tar­gets have of­fered higher visibil­ity and greater ease of suc­cess glob­ally. Over the years, ter­ror­ist groups have been aware of the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the mar­itime do­main and the ship­ping and mar­itime in­fra­struc­ture.

How then does mar­itime ter­ror­ism play a role in transna­tional se­cu­rity threats? Mar­itime ter­ror­ism has not been linked to piracy as transna­tional threats are usu­ally con­sid­ered “crim­i­nal” in the eyes of the law.

These in­ter­na­tional crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties, how­ever, could be used to fund and fi­nance ter­ror­ism. The over­lap­ping na­ture is mis­un­der­stood by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. For ex­am­ple, the Abu Sayyaf group in the south­ern Philip­pines has a cred­i­ble mar­itime ca­pa­bil­ity.

Abu Sayyaf has a long his­tory of mar­itime tra­di­tion and we have seen its op­er­a­tions tak­ing place in South­east Asia, from hi­jack­ing, kid­nap­pings, hu­man traf­fick­ing to the smug­gling of il­licit goods and weapons.

Abu Sayyaf op­er­ates on two ac­counts: one as a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion and the other as an eco­nomic force mul­ti­plier.

The “kid­nap-for-ran­som” strat­egy em­ployed over the years, the many hi­jack­ings of ves­sels and the Marawi siege are ev­i­dence of its ter­ror­ist modus operandi.

Abu Sayyaf has been the only ter­ror­ist group in the re­gion to ac­tu­ally hi­jack ves­sels in South­east Asia and has vast op­er­a­tional ex­per­tise.

Ter­ror­ist op­er­a­tions re­quire huge amounts of money and, as such, by fol­low­ing the trail of transna­tional crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties, it may lead us to the ter­ror­ists them­selves.

Al-Qaeda has been in­volved in the drug smug­gling in South­east Asia as it de­pends on the il­licit weapons deal in the Sulu arms trade, money laun­der­ing and the sale of blood di­a­monds from Africa.

So, how is mar­itime piracy as­so­ci­ated with transna­tional threats?

Piracy over­lays seam­lessly into the crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity of or­gan­ised crime. The mar­itime do­main pro­vides much ex­ploita­tion and ripe op­por­tu­ni­ties for piracy and transna­tional ac­tiv­i­ties. Al­though mar­itime ter­ror­ism and transna­tional ac­tiv­i­ties do not seem to jus­tify their means, piracy does.

Piracy as the or­gan­ised crime has been op­er­a­tional for decades.

The Lib­er­a­tion Tamil Tigers of Elam was op­er­at­ing a fleet of cargo car­ry­ing weapons from the east to the west, pass­ing un­no­ticed through the Straits of Malacca. The ex­ploita­tion of mar­itime laws and se­crecy us­ing flags of con­ve­nience al­lowed the crimes to flour­ish.

These and other crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties have seen mil­lions of dol­lars of cargo, kid­nap­pings and phan­tom ships used for transna­tional crimes, such as drug and hu­man traf­fick­ing, go be­yond the eyes of se­cu­rity agen­cies in ports.

This kind of piracy goes be­yond the reg­u­lar piracy of mug­gings and rob­beries at sea. They are usu­ally the small fries that make small head­lines and not the real se­cu­rity threats that run be­yond the radar.

It is im­per­a­tive that by analysing the two, one can de­ter­mine that high-end piracy and ter­ror­ism are as­so­ci­ated with crime syn­di­cates. With this, we can stream­line that the links be­tween ter­ror­ism and piracy are very well groomed to­gether and they cre­ate a self-mech­a­nism for a sup­port-struc­ture sys­tem. Drug traf­fick­ing has over­taken the less lu­cra­tive smug­gling and, there­fore, piracy will be a ven­ture for in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist groups to work with.

If piracy re­mains an­other transna­tional threat, it will con­tinue to get the same at­ten­tion as other transna­tional crimes get, or un­til an­other 9/11 takes place.

Will this be too late for mea­sures to be taken?

The global mar­itime do­main is vul­ner­a­ble. The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity must ad­dress calls for con­tin­ued col­lab­o­ra­tive ac­tion against transna­tional se­cu­rity crimes.

Oceans are be­yond sov­er­eign con­trol, as such, the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea con­tinue to be vul­ner­a­ble to ter­ror­ist at­tacks. The com­plic­ity of the state ac­tors in ad­dress­ing transna­tional threats is in­ef­fec­tive and sur­veil­lance of these threats is min­i­mal. Con­di­tions now lead to more adroit ex­ploita­tions of the mar­itime en­vi­ron­ment.

The growth of off-shore in­dus­tries and the in­crease of re­sources have shifted to the waters, mak­ing them tar­gets of mar­itime threats from ter­ror­ism.

Mar­itime at­tacks of­fer al­ter­na­tive means to ter­ror­ist groups. These can lead to large-scale eco­nomic desta­bil­i­sa­tion, mass ca­su­al­ties and en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age.

These groups have also in­fil­trated the gov­ern­ments of some states into sell­ing their sovereignty so as to cre­ate state of con­ve­nience for them­selves. Cor­rup­tion is no longer sim­ply greas­ing the wheels of com­merce. It has be­come more dan­ger­ous when mixed with ter­ror­ism, piracy and transna­tional crimes. The threat is so real that it rules some states.

Cor­rup­tion also fa­cil­i­tates the en­try into the fi­nan­cial sec­tor, where some states may de­pend on dirty money and, thus, the chain be­comes harder to cur­tail.

Where do we go from here? There are pre­ven­tive mea­sures that have been in place but are they rel­e­vant to the threats posed by transna­tional groups in sup­port of ter­ror­ism and piracy?

With the im­ple­ment­ing mea­sures to se­cure the waters, the es­sen­tial tool for gov­ern­ments is to de­grade the land ca­pa­bil­i­ties of these groups.

The bi­b­li­cal cord at sea has a strong bond with the fa­cil­i­ties on land or events at shore. These threats to the mar­itime do­main must be cur­tailed and fo­cused on land where it all be­gins. Counter mea­sures need to be ad­dressed on land in­stead at sea. The re­liance on cor­rupt of­fi­cials and the abil­ity to laun­der the pro­ceeds are there­fore their vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. Ter­ror­ists, pi­rates and transna­tional crim­i­nal groups need a place to live and they have found weak states to so­licit their busi­ness and op­er­a­tions.

Cor­rup­tion is no longer sim­ply greas­ing the wheels of com­merce. It has be­come more dan­ger­ous when mixed with ter­ror­ism, piracy and transna­tional crimes. The threat is so real that it rules some states.


The global mar­itime do­main is vul­ner­a­ble and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity must ad­dress calls for con­tin­ued col­lab­o­ra­tive ac­tion against transna­tional se­cu­rity crimes.

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