There's been a tragic surge in international terrorism in recent
days - from Chechens seizing a Russian school, to a renewal of tit-
for-tat suicide bombings and assassinations in Israel and the
continued killings of hostages and US troops in Iraq.
One of the most disturbing aspects of these attacks is that some
may represent strategic escalation. Terrorists have targeted schools
before, but never on the scale of last week's Russian disaster.
Islamists have similarly increased the breadth of their violence
against Iraqi targets.
But this doesn't mean the world has lost ground in a global war
on terror. Indeed, this struggle may not be global, or even best
described as "war," at all. The main fronts might instead be seen as
separate hot spots, each on its own time cycle, each roiled by its
own clashes of power and religion, each perhaps better fought in
different ways. "The bottom line is they are not connected," says
Bruce Hoffman, a terror expert at the RAND Corp. in Washington.
"This has been a particularly bad two weeks."
Terrorism, after all, is not an ideology, such as communism. It
is a technique - a tool that employs fear as a means of political
coercion. At various times it's been used by anarchists (in the
Balkans prior to World War I), anticolonialists (in the 1960s by
Algerians in their war for independence from France), radical
leftists (the Red Brigades of Europe in the 1970s) and today,
Its use rises and falls, like the tide. There were 175
significant terror events around the world in 2003, according to the
most recent US State Department Patterns of Global Terrorism report.
That is 37 more such incidents than occurred in 2002, but fewer than
the annus horribilis of 2001.
Only 1.5 percent of terrorism's casualties in 2003 were US
citizens. Ninety-eight and a half percent came from elsewhere in the
That "is a real indicator this is a global war," said Ambassador
Cofer Black, coordinator for counterrorism, at a briefing for
reporters earlier this year.
In Washington the battle against terrorism is often presented as
a sweeping conflict with clearly defined sides, as if it were a new
cold war. President George Bush last week called it a "struggle of
If that struggle is defined as the US vs. Al Qaeda, it is a far-
flung war of sorts. Since the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in
East Africa, the hydra-headed jihadist movement has exported
fighters and expertise to indigenous guerrilla groups from the
Philippines to Chechnya.
To these groups "Al Qaeda said you must not only fight your near
enemy but a terrible distant enemy - the US," says Rohan Gunaratna,
an expert on terror atthe Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies
in Singapore. …