May 03, 2008

Copy-Cat Attack on Karzai

- International Terrorism Monitor---Paper No. 390

By B. Raman

President John F. Kennedy of the US was assassinated on November 22, 1963, at Dallas, Texas, as he was being taken in a tightly-protected motorcade. In view of the strict access control, which might not have allowed access to his car, Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin, took up position in an unoccupied room on the sixth floor of the Texas Book Repository and fired at Kennedy. The incident highlighted the need for perimeter security, meaning the physical security of buildings in the vicinity of a VIP motorcade or a place of meeting of the VIP to prevent anyone taking shelter in a building and opening fire.

2.On October 6, 1981, the then President Anwar Sadat of Egypt was assassinated during the annual 6th October parade in Cairo marking the eighth anniversary of what the Egyptians view as their victory over Israel in the Yom Kippur war of 1973. As Sadat and his security staff were engrossed watching a spectacular fly-past in the sky, Khalid Islambouli of the Islamic Jihad, who was a member of the military formations participating in the parade, ran towards Sadat and shot him dead. Eleven others were also killed by other terriorists, who indiscriminately opened fire

3. The subsequent investigation brought out that a fatwa ordering the assassination had been issued by Omar Abdel-Rahman, a blind cleric who is presently in jail in the US after having been convicted for his role in the New York World Centre explosion of February 1993. Over 300 members of the Islamic jihad were arrested and prosecuted by the Egyptian authorities. Prominent among them were Dy. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the present No.2 of Al Qaeda, who now operates from the tribal areas of Pakistan, Omar Abdel Rahman and Abd al-Hamid Kishk. Zawahiri and Omar were released by the Egyptian authorities in 1984. Both of them travelled, along with a brother of Islambouli, to Pakistan and offered their services to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the jihad against the Soviet troops. The ISI recruited them and sent them to Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden joined them subsequently. They were later to constitute the initial hard core of Al Qaeda.

4. Some of the perpetrators of the attack, which killed Sadat, were allegedly members of the Egyptian Army. The investigation brought out that they participated in the parade carrying weapons loaded with live ammunition. The security precaution of a pre-parade inspection of all weapons carried by those participating in a parade to ensure that no weapon was loaded with ammunition was introduced by security agencies of the world thereafter.

5. The modus operandi (MO) used in the attempt to kill President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan during a national day parade at Kabul on April 27, 2008, partly resembles the MO used by Oswald for killing Kennedy and partly the MO used by the Islamic Jihad of Egypt for killing Sadat. The perpetrators decided to strike during the parade held to mark the 16th anniversary of the collapse of the Government of then President Najibullah, which led to the occupation of Kabul by the Mujahideen. During such spectacular parades, the attention of the security staff tends to get diverted by the spectacle, thereby providing the would-be assassin with an opportunity to strike. However, since the access control in the parade ground was apparently tight, the perpetrators took up position in a room of a low-class hotel normally used by migrant labour, which was located about 500 metres from the saluting base, and opened fire with machine guns and grenade launchers.

6. They opened fire at the moment when Mr.Karzai had returned to the base after inspecting the formations, which were to participate in the parade.His personal security guards managed to have him removed safely out of the parade ground without his being hurt. There was an exchange of fire between other security personnel posted in the parade ground and the perpetrators. The security personnel ultimately managed to stop the firing from the building, raid it and make a number of arrests.

7. A self-styled spokesman of the Neo Taliban has claimed responsibility for the terrorist strike and said that a team of six persons participated in the operation of whom three died and the other three managed to escape. A tribal elder on the stage was directly hit and killed by the terrorist fire. A member of parliament, who was injured, succumbed to his injuries later. A 10-year-old child, which was reportedly hit by a bullet fired by the security personnel, also died.

8. While Afghan security sources have projected the incident as an attempt to kill Mr. Karzai, the Neo Taliban has projected it as an operation to demonstrate its capability even in Kabul, despite all the security precautions taken by the Government. The incident has revealed serious deficiencies in route security and perimeter security. The deficiencies in route security enabled six terrorists heavily armed enter the city and reach the hotel without being detected and intercepted anywhere. The deficiencies in perimeter security enabled the perpetrators to take up position in a room of the hotel without being detected and fire from there.

9. Apart from these physical security deficiencies, was there also a complicity by any members of the security forces? That is a question, which should be worrying the Afghan authorities. In Iraq, many successful terrorist strikes have been made possible by internal complicity. In Afghanistan, till now, there have been few instances of such complicity.

10. It has to be stressed that while the Neo Taliban's capability to carry out terrorist strikes in different parts of the country, including Kabul, has remained unimpaired, its capability for large-scale conventional actions involving stand-and-fight battles with large numbers of its men deployed has not been much in evidence this year as compared to 2006-07. The death of Mulla Dadullah, a very competent conventional commander, in a clash in May, 2007, seems to have impaired the Neo Taliban's capability for conventional fighting. It has not yet been able to produce a commander with a similar capability.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com)

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