|An IS suspect in a SpongeBob T-shirt nabbed recently.|
By HARESH DEOL
ENGLISH actor, filmmaker and director Peter Ustinov once said: “Terrorism is the war of the poor against the rich, and war is the terrorism of the rich against the poor.”
Such has been the misconception of the men, women and even children who join a particular group, these days in the name of religion, to fulfill a certain agenda.
Experts have long dispelled the notion that acts of terror are carried out by the poor and uneducated. History has shown it is the educated and affluent who lead such organisations and brainwash the minds of others through propaganda.
It has nothing to do with the poor or economically challenged. It is not even about class or inequality.
Osama bin Laden was an engineer from a wealthy Saudi family. Another Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was a trained surgeon.
The lead hijacker of the 9/11 attacks in US, Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta, was an engineer in Germany in the 1990s.
Indian authorities nabbed several terrorists in 2012. They included Muti-ur-Rahman Siddiqui, a journalist who covered the higher education beat for the English daily Deccan Herald, Master of Computer Applications student Shohaib Mirza and his brother Aijaz Mirza, a junior scientist.
Abdul Subhan Qureshi, a major leader of the Indian Mujahideen involved in the 2008 bombings in Ahmedabad, Jaipur and New Delhi, hold a diploma in industrial electronics and was editor of Islamic Movement. He was also a suspect in the July 2006 Mumbai train blasts.
Shahnawaz Alam, a doctor at a private hospital in Lucknow, was involved in the bomb blasts in Varanasi in 2005, Mumbai train bombings a year later and the 2008 New Delhi attacks.
The stereotyping of a bearded man in a skull cup or turban as the face of terror no longer holds water.
Abu Bashar, who was nabbed following his alleged involvement in the Ahmedabad bomb attacks in 2008, made startling revelations in his interrogation about the strategy of recruitment.
“Terror groups are on the lookout for young men who speak good English, comfortable with using the Internet and computer and most importantly they do not look different.
“New terror recruits who wear clothes such as jeans and T-shirt dress up like any other youngster and are part of the crowd,” he revealed, according to sources as published in media reports.
Thus it should not come to any surprise that the gunmen behind the attacks at Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka last Friday were young and educated. They hailed from affluent families.
It has been widely reported that Nibras Islam, one of the gunmen involved in last Friday’s attacks that resulted in the death of 20 people, including Italians, Japanese and American students, had studied at Monash University in Malaysia.
Rohan Imtiaz — as identified by friends and former classmates after his photograph was released by SITE Intelligence, had also apparently studied at the university’s Sunway campus. Rohan is the son of Bangladesh Olympic Association deputy secretary Imtiaz Khan Babul.
The young men were said to be “friendly” and were active in football and futsal.
The university may hog the spotlight but that shouldn’t be the case. The authorities must also realise the propaganda of terror is no longer restricted to those schooled in a madrasah, as often presumed.
Terror groups are using Facebook, Twitter and other applications to get their messages across. They target those who feel left out — regardless of status in society — and give them a so-called purpose to live.
It is about a sense of belonging. A sense of achieving something. And many are easily brainwashed when religion is used to advance such ideology. The so-called Islamic State (IS), for one, goes against the fundamentals of Islam — a religion of peace.
And such groups will capitalise on any terror attacks committed outside Syria. They will claim it was conducted by their “holy soldiers” — a fact that can never be ascertained. IS is eager to show that despite losing ground in Syria, they are winning battles through blasts in Europe and Asia.
One must admit they have won the war of perception. One bomb blast and all eyes will automatically be on IS. They have created a legion of sympathisers, weak souls who are willing to end their lives in the name of the group.
Malaysia is battling a serious threat within. Police have arrested over 100 people, for their alleged links with IS, in recent times. The grenade attack on Movida in Puchong on June 28 was the first successful IS strike in the country. The militants are bullish of committing more of such attacks at “unIslamic” spots.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar had said the “several cells in Malaysia were receiving orders directly from Syria” and had in the same breath defended his move of monitoring social media — for it is through such means these groups communicate.
Our porous borders allow the smuggling of people and goods in the country — a fact the authorities have repeatedly acknowledged. The Malaysian Immigration System has been sabotaged since 2010 — a frightening fact revealed by this newspaper on May 18. The number of those who have entered and exited the country easily remain unaccounted for.
Even those who enter and leave the country legally may end up committing terror attacks. It will not be an exaggeration to say that we now live in fear — not knowing if your coursemate, who you play futsal with regularly, would one day shoot randomly in public or that “friendly face” you see daily on the train would turn up tomorrow with a suicide vest and blow himself up.
The scary fact about these ‘terrorists’ is that they are not confined to a particular mould. It’s not about how they look or the way they speak. It is about a group of random people who share one thing in common, eager to have a “sense of belonging”.
They walk among us. The threat is real.
HARESH is executive editor of Malay Mail. He wishes Malay Mail readers Salam Aidilfitri. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HareshDeol