The rise of the DIY terrorist

Yesterday, the leading Western nations and Russia adopted 25 measures to combat terrorism and appealed to other states to join in a global fight against "political violence". It sounded like a tough response to a problem plaguing these governments. But the measures are unlikely, in themselves, to solve the problem.

The reason is that "political violence", as we have traditionally understood it, is no longer the problem. The World Trade Centre bombing in 1993, the use of nerve gas in Japan last year, the Oklahoma bombing, the attack on TWA 800 (if it was a bomb), and the Atlanta outrage all give the same message. Terrorism has changed.

Yesterday's measures, agreed by foreign and interior ministers of the G7 nations including Britain, set out improvements to transport safety, increased intelligence co-operation and plans to investigate terrorists' abuse of charities and other front organisations.

All these measures are welcome. But the G7 states and Russia, like most generals, are still preoccupied with fighting the last war. They have not addressed the main issue: the changed motivation behind terrorist attacks.

Instead of pursuing national self-determination, albeit by unconventional means, the ends of these groups are different, often undefined. And terrorist attacks, far from seeking to draw attention to a cause, or even elicit sympathy and support, are motivated only by vengeance and envy. That means they come without warning, and anonymously. That also makes them far more effective, and far more difficult for governments to cope with or to halt.

The irony is that the root cause of this new terrorism is an increasing divide between rich and poor, and consequent rising resentment against local elites and foreign exploitation. Anger at Western economic dominance has fuelled a revival of religious - notably Islamic - extremism. It is precisely the type of issue that G7 summits are best qualified to deal with. Yet the G7 meeting has not addressed these problems.

In the 1970s, when the study of terrorism emerged as an academic discipline, conventional war between nuclear armed blocs made straightforward confrontation unthinkable. Terrorism was interpreted as part of the continued struggle between east and west, even if conducted via surrogates, such as the IRA or Middle Eastern terrorists.

That's all changed. Far from reflecting divisions within the international system, separate and ever-multiplying terrorist cells rebel against the new collegiality of nations, exploiting divisions within those nations.

Conventional terrorist groups had ends which we could understand in terms of our own politics. The new ones do not. Old-style terrorist leaders were usually educated, politically motivated, middle class. Those of the new groups are not. Nor is it possible to identify states that sponsor new terrorism and so organise reprisals.

The more conventional terrorist organisations, such as the IRA, are more vulnerable to penetration by intelligence agencies than the smaller, more separate cells of the new-style organisations. Penetrating extremist cults, such as the Aum Shinri Kyo cult in Japan or extremist organisations in the mountains of Montana, is more difficult.

The new-style terrorists are therefore "anarchists", in the true sense. Most of the 19th century terrorist groups, including so-called anarchists and nihilists, had political aims, albeit poorly defined. Their successors in the 1990s do not.

The new-style terrorist groups can only be understood in terms of where they came from - Hizbollah, from the refugee camps in Gaza, Hamas, from southern Lebanon. Like all the new terrorist groups, they recruit from the marginalised and the dispossessed.

Algeria, where an estimated 30,000 have died in fighting, is perhaps the archetype: a very divided society, with a repressive government, which has led to a radical response by Islamic fundamentalists. And the conflict has spilled over, into France.

Professor Paul Rogers, of the University of Bradford, is one of a number of experts who believe that inequality in the distribution of wealth, both within countries and between them, is to blame. The poorest will always be the most resentful and the most easily inspired to react against perceived threats, such as immigration. Islamic fundamentalism, reacting against what they see as Western cultural and economic imperialism, and poor whites in the southern and mid-western states of the US, both fit the bill.

Terrorist organisation has changed along with motivation. No longer are big state sponsors or even extremist leaders directly linked with the people who carry out the attacks. The World Trade Centre bombing on 4 March 1993 is a prime example. Although the details are still unclear, it appears to have been masterminded by Ramzi Ahmad Youssef, a Palestinian travelling on an Iraqi passport, who used four dupes from an Islamic extremist group to plant the bomb. However, they needed spiritual guidance provided by Sheikh Abdul Rahman, an Egyptian mullah also resident in New York.

The attack was awesomely ambitious, and its scale suggests total disregard for human life. The 900kg bomb, using home-made nitro-glycerine to detonate a main charge of fertiliser, was surrounded by gas cylinders to enhance its effect. The idea was to collapse one of the two towers of the World Trade Centre into the other. Fortunately, the abutment against which it was placed was sufficiently robust to withstand the blast, although it came close to collapsing a nearby 26-storey hotel. Had the attack gone as planned, 50,000 people in the two huge towers could have been killed.

Terrorist attacks on airliners over major cities are designed to have similar effects. More conventional terrorist groups still limit their attacks, because to kill too many is seen as counter-productive. In contrast, the new-style extremists, motivated only by hate, know no bounds. The nerve gas attacks on the Tokyo underground were limited because the gas did not disperse as intended: had it done so, thousands might have been killed.

Splitting terrorist groups from their sponsors has made them far more difficult to counter. And a small terrorist cell with no political aim needs no sponsor. Whereas traditional revolutionary war theory, as preached by Mao, described guerrillas as fish swimming in the sea of the population, these fish need no sea. They are discreet, and discrete. The traditional approaches, through the exchange of intelligence, proposed at G7, and of winning the populace's hearts and minds so that they will turn in the terrorists will not work so well. A new approach is required, which will depend more and more on technological surveillance.

If there is any comfort, it is that terrorist cells need to keep their operations as low-tech as possible in order to avoid detection. The IRA, with its network of quartermasters and underground arsenals, is capable of using drainpipes and sheet metal to manufacture mortars and the bombs fired from them. The more isolated terrorist cells of the future will stick to the simplest devices - though they may still be devastatingly effective.

Any competent chemist can make mustard gas or the simpler nerve gases from agents commonly available from chemical companies. The main ingredients of home-made explosives - ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, sodium chlorate and sugar - are easily available. Mercury tilt switches can be found in old refrigerators.

Terrorists wanting to effect maximum damage might be tempted to build chemical weapons or, even easier, biological ones, which could be grown with the aid of a home brewing kit.

Most terrifying of all is the anonymity of the new-style organisations. Nation states cannot retaliate against a sponsor state, because there is none, and cannot explain who is responsible to their people, because they do not know. Whereas the political "terrorist" organisations we have come to know aimed to build something - however perverted and wrong they may have been - the new ones aim only to destroy. They are true terrorists. Their only aim is terror. The G7 countries have not begun to address that problem. Terrorist supplies available at a store near you ... Ammonium nitrate fertiliser; Weedkiller: mix with sugar; Gas cylinders: pack around your explosive to give enhanced explosive effect; Fireworks, shotgun shells for primer; Ingredients for pesticides: used to make nerve gas; Mercury tilt switches: from refrigerators (also try local rubbish dump); Plastic bags, dustbins, for encasing the device; Steel mesh, nails, nuts and bolts: they disintegrate into shrapnel, causing more damage to victims; Drainpipes, beer cans (to make mortars); Home brewing kit: for developing bacteria. Such biological weapons are highly unpredictable.

NOTE: For more details, see the Internet

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Sport
football
News
i100
Life and Style
Virtual reality headset: 'Essentially a cinema screen that you strap to your face'
techHow virtual reality is thrusting viewers into frontline of global events and putting film-goers at the heart of the action
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Interface Developer - HTML, CSS, JS

£17000 - £23750 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Liverpool based international...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness