Terrorist — the bell tolls for thee!

by Dushy Ranetunge

On Thursday, Rear Admiral Richard Cobbold CB. FRAeS., concluding the most successful terrorism conference held in London for many years quoted John Donne. (Now, this Bell tolling softly for another, saies to me, Thou must die. ) "For Whom the Bell Tolls"

"No man is an island, entire of itself; . therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

He concluded, "terrorists of this world, the bell tolls for thee"

The conference on Terrorism and Regional Security-Managing the Challenges in Asia was held on February28 and March 1, 2001 at the Royal United Services Institute of Defence Studies (RUSI) in Whitehall, almost opposite Downing Street, behind the British Ministry of Defence buildings complex.

It was a joint effort on part of the Royal United Services Institute of Defence Studies (RUSI) and the newly launched Asia Pacific Foundation(APF).

The Earl of Inchcape is the President of the Foundation with Rear Admiral Richard Cobbold CB FRAeS as Chairman of the advisory board. The council consists of the Michael Howard QC.,MP, Lord Avebury, Viscount Waverley, Lady Ann Crofton, Baron Alexander von Hoyningen-Huene, Dr Michael W Platt MBBS, FRCA, John Marshall, Dr Donald Ross FRCS and Garech Browne.

The advisory board consists of Prof. Dr. Chris Smith (Centre for Defence Studies, King’s College), George Perkovich (USA), Prof. Dr. Vernon Hewitt (Bristol University), Victoria Schofield, Dr Michael W Platt MBBS, FRCA (Imperial College), Wilfred Wei Pei Sing (Taiwan), Francoise Cloquet (Belgium), Hans Jeggle (Germany), Jun Asahina (Japan), Dr R C Cooper (Singapore).

M J Gohel, the Chief Executive of the Foundation drew parallels between pickpockets and terrorists when he told this correspondent "Terrorists are criminals. We should not call them terrorists. We should call them criminals. They are no different to the pickpockets in the streets, who mug innocents and steal their wallets. Terrorists use violence in the streets and rob us of our loved ones."

The opening address was by the Assistant Commissioner David Veness (Specialist Operations, Counter Terrorism, Scotland Yard, Metropolitan Police).


The impressive list of speakers included Professor Paul Wilkinson (Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, St Andrews University), Ahmed Rashid (Central Asia correspondent, Far Eastern Economic Review), Dr Judith Kipper, (Director, Council on Foreign Relations (Washington) and Director, Centre for Strategic and International Studies.), Dr Selig S Harrison (Senior Fellow, Century Foundation), Lt Col Mike Dolamore MBE (Commanding Officer of the Army School of Ammunition), Col Ivar Hellburg, RMCS (Cranfield University, former Defence Attache in Indonesia, Falklands Veteran, Management and Security Analysis expert.), General Angelo Reyes (Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines), Dr Alex P Schmid ( Officer in Charge, Terrorism Prevention Branch, United Nations, formerly at Department of Political Science, Leiden University) and Keith Bloomfield (Head of Counter Terrorism Policy Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office).

The audience consisted of senior diplomats in London from Brunei, Philippines, Israel, Yugoslavia, Russia, Uzbekistan, France, Germany, China, Australia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Kyrgystan, Thailand, Bangladesh, New Zealand, United States, Malaysia and Nepal.

In addition there were representatives from the armed forces and defence ministries of the United Kingdom, France, Philippines, New Zealand, India, Israel and several other countries. There were representatives from various private companies which manufacture counter terrorism equipment, specialists in risk management etc.

The press was represented by the BBC, India Weekly, ZEE TV, APF, Asian Age, Hindustan Times, Xinhua and "The Island", Sri Lanka.

The conference discussed several terrorist outfits operating in Asia and one presentation by a Western expert focused on the LTTE. It was an excellent presentation and covered the history of the conflict and the terror tactics used by the LTTE assassinating all those who have an alternative political opinion and presenting itself as the sole representatives of the Tamils.


Terror tactics used by the LTTE effectively silences all alternative Tamil opinion and only the LTTE’s opinion is heard and projected as the opinion of the "Tamils". Western media, and governments are exposed to this one-sided opinion as being the "voice" of the Tamils, resulting in some Western governments making flawed assessments.

The conference was told that the LTTE have cleverly managed the conflict so that it is maintained only within the region so as to not to provide an opportunity for the major powers to intervene in a massive way on the side of the Sri Lankan state.

It was stated that the LTTE normally mounts terrorist attacks in the south to cover up its military failures.

In dealing with the ethnic conflict it was highlighted that the Sri Lankan state must act scrupulously.

Use of women and child soldiers were discussed together with LTTE’s criminal activity including drug trafficking. Another speaker stated that according to one study there are over 4,000 Tamils who have been incarcerated around the world for narcotics trafficking at some time or the other. He went on "the LTTE’s war budget of US $100 million cannot be from contributions and extortion alone. Drugs, legitimate and illegitimate business also plays a major role".

During a break this particular speaker told the "Island" correspondent that he had met a Tamil in the Netherlands and when he questioned about contributions to the LTTE, the Sri Lankan Tamil had stated that he contributes and the LTTE keeps on fighting and as long as the LTTE fights, he can continue to live in the Netherlands as a "refugee".

Several other speakers also referred to the LTTE, its suicide attacks etc. and this resulted in the large number of senior diplomats present being exposed to information on the Sri Lankan terrorist group.

During the "Sri Lanka and the LTTE" presentation, the historical perspective covered the JVP insurrection. The Western presenter stated that the JVP threat was neutralised by an "efficient" counter-terrorist operation. During question time, he was questioned to the human rights aspect of the counter-terrorism operation that crushed the JVP. But the speaker maintained that it was an effective and an efficient counter-terrorist operation. During the lunch break, a diplomat of a South Asian nation commented to this correspondent that left wing terrorists activity in his own country should be crushed with a JVP style counter-terrorist operation.

Anti-JVP counter-terrorism

In seems that while human rights activists are concerned about the human rights abuses during the anti-JVP counter-terrorism drive, those in Western security establishments and some diplomats praise it as an "efficient" counter-terrorist operation that effectively neutralised a violent challenge to a democratic state.

It was highlighted that terrorism is constantly evolving and it is like hitting a moving target. Terrorist organisations of today are not what it used to be in the 60s and the 70s. The distinction between terrorists and criminals were narrowing and increasingly criminals are using weapons and technology of terrorists.

The conference was told that although incidents of terrorism are on the decline, they tend to be low-intensity and high -impact with large numbers of incidents with civilian casualties of over 100 or more. This is attributed to the use of explosives by the terrorists. A CIA study had shown that 85% of terrorist incidents do not result in fatalities.

The need for public involvement to combat terrorism was emphasised. "Law enforcement agencies alone cannot fight terrorism. There has to be a wide partnership between law enforcement agencies, the public and even private sector companies in developing counter-terrorism technology."

The success in the use of close circuit TV which monitors public roads and facilities, pro-active intelligence, disruption and detection of terrorist acts and criminal prosecutions to expose that terrorists were criminals were discussed.

The timing of the Terrorism conference was significant as the British Terrorism Act had come into force on February 19 and during the first day of the conference the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, released the list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTO). The diplomatic community at the conference were buzzing with discussions of the implications and future action to pursue the terrorists based in Britain. The Indians who had lobbied heavily to get several of their terrorist groups and the LTTE listed were confident.

In response to a question regarding London being a base for international terrorists, it was stated that under the new Terrorism Act, British law enforcement will not be complacent of a group based in the United Kingdom that carries out violent acts abroad. "British law enforcement has a duty to pursue terrorist groups based in the UK who carry out terrorism abroad." It was stated that the British law enforcement authorities were aware that all the big "brand names" representing terrorist groups were based in the UK.

Kidnappings and state sponsored terrorism in relation to Iran, Iraq and Libya was also discussed.

Cyber terrorism

Cyber terrorism and the use of the internet by terrorist groups was highlighted and that globalisation works both for and against terrorists.

The UN definition of terrorism and other definitions were considered with particular regard to freedom fighters, self-determination, liberation groups and guerrilla armies. It was stated that a group that is engaged in guerrilla tactics and terrorism should be categorised as terrorists.

The conference was told that a new Indian draft convention on terrorism was being discussed in New York at present.

As in the case of Yugoslavia, it was stated that the type of government, its actions, popularity, human rights etc. should be considered before categorising a rebel group as terrorists.

Terrorism thrives in an environment of poverty, unemployment, oppressive regimes and low levels of education. States being non-responsive to the needs of populations, weak legal systems and lack of quality governance were also identified as giving oxygen to terrorism. It was therefore argued that targeting terrorism alone would be counter-productive and a more broad-based political and a counter-terrorist response was needed.

Terrorism in Islamic countries, Philippines and Indonesia were also covered.


It was stated that most Muslims do not accept Taliban (Afghanistan) brand of Islam as being true Islam. It was highlighted that many of these groups operating from Afghanistan were narco-terrorists and dependent on heroin production and trade to finance their activity.

The conference was told that in most Islamic countries modernisation was seen as colonisation resulting in 70% of under-25 year olds turning away from modernisation to something home grown—Islam.

The conference was told of the need for moderate leaders in Islamic countries to be heard, to stand up and express outrage at the hijacking of Islam by a few fanatical groups. There were no Islamic leaders stating that violence is not acceptable. There was a need for leaders in Islamic countries to address corruption, education, poverty, oppression and freedom of speech.

There was concern about Pakistan and how it lost its importance after the end of the Cold War and that it is now alarmingly slipping into Afghanistan’s instability. Pakistan was the major supporter of the Taliban,

The challenge faced by nations was to formulate an inclusive counter-terrorist initiative on the national and international levels. The participating diplomats were told of the need for an international multi-faceted response to terrorism and the need for good intelligence for wise allocation of scarce resources. "There must be solidarity at an international level to make the world a better place."

(The article deliberately does not attribute statements to specific speakers for security reasons)