Terrorism knows no frontiers
The lessons to be learnt from recent events
|by Leo Olivero
In a world where a country's enemies are unknown and where the targets are often innocent civilians, it is security services, rather than armies, that now form the front line of defence.
The growth in international terrorism has turned much of defence planning on its head. Countries are now spending much more than before on security services rather than military hardware.
It is generally agreed that there can be no neutrality in the face of terrorism. Terrorists are faceless individuals who strike by stealth, killing indiscriminately and across borders. And, as the major powers pour millions of pounds into counter-terrorism, terrorists are seeking out softer targets in countries which, because they are small, are in variably less prepared and more exposed. I suspect this is exactly the case with the alleged plot to perform some terrorist act possibly in Gibraltar and/or in the near Spanish vicinity.
Not that I’m suggesting that Gibraltar was not prepared to deal with such a grave incident (that is not for me to say) but the Rock certainly qualifies as a small target country with a world renown iconic name of stature and strength!
We Will Never Know the Intentions of These Terrorists!
Will we ever know the truth regarding the intentions of the three individuals involved remains to be seen? Although personally from a British perspective and from my own experience, having had some experience in the manner the British Secret Service operated during the 1988 IRA plot on Gibraltar (and as a senior officer in the RGP) very little details I believe will emerge from the British side.
Although the same cannot be said for the Spanish, their press in particular.
Yet I am sure, the question regarding the Turkish individual who spent some years working in Gibraltar commuting daily to and from Spain, will be an issue that may warrant some kind of back-tracking investigation, this to establish if there were any loopholes that have been discovered and abused or if any part of the system - security or otherwise was breached or compromised and now requires tightening-up.
If one is honest Gibraltar, over the years, has never been far from the terrorism headlines. It’s frequently mentioned when reports are made of the closeness of terrorist activity in the strait of Gibraltar.
After all, Gibraltar has Morocco on one side and Spain on the other which positions Gibraltar in the middle of two major terrorist beacons, a point we should always be fearful of.
Gibraltar as I mentioned, witnessed one of most important and high-profile terrorist incidents when in 1988 an IRA cell came to Gibraltar to conduct one of their bombing campaigns, this led to the intervention by British Security Services with the Operational Assistance of the RGP.
Late last year there were more terrorist arrests in La Linea, although not directly related to Gibraltar, the proximity of these arrests to the Rock made many wonder if there was a Gibraltar connection. Although I’m sure the list of terrorist issues in and around the Rock are probably longer, we or the public obviously do not get to know a fraction of what goes on.
The only common feature in the incident last week was that the suspects or alleged terrorist were foreigners, one an established worker in Gibraltar. But nonetheless an extremely serious situation!
Yet any (God forbid) attack on the Rock should not in my view necessarily be considered as an attack on Gibraltar itself, particularly one that undermines our sovereignty with potentially serious implications for our economy, especially tourism. I say this as this may not be the case, because at the best of times, it is wholly difficult to fathom what is in the head of these people who carry out these atrocities.
What is in the Mind of the Terrorists?
Just look at the mass killings in Norway last year and recently the Batman Killings in Colorado, America where a crazed gunman in a gas mask and body armour killed 12 people at a midnight premiere of the new "Batman Film". People in these countries still continue to deal with the aftermath of these savage and tragic attacks on their government and on their people. We should all be reminded that terror and terrorists can strike anytime and anywhere.
The fact that the attacks appear to be the work of a domestic terrorist as those just described underscores that there is no one face to terrorism. Those attacks were not the work of Muslim or other extremists but allegedly that of a Norwegian citizen in one incident and an American on the other.
Before retiring from the Police Service I was the vice-president of the ‘European Association of Airport and Seaport Police' and Executive member of its Sister International Body, I served on these associations for over 6 years. These latter policing Associations were all about discussing, sharing, promoting best practice regarding security at airports and seaports.
Cruise liners as targets
I remember discussing many times with counter-terrorism colleagues and individuals from many countries the fact that for instance, cruise liners were and still are "an attractive terrorist target", which can be struck through various ways - not a pleasant scenario for any country around the world promoting itself as a cruise liner hub. Having said that, a determined terrorist can pick a target at will, whether it is hotels, government buildings, embassies, aircraft, transport systems, even fast-food outlets or other foreign-owned establishments.
If you go a little deeper, apart from the direct risk of attack, the threat to security includes organised crime such as drug trafficking, illegal immigration and transshipment of weapons of mass destruction. Financial institutions too can be used to launder or channel terrorism funds. Such a multiplicity of threats means that the only hope of defence lies in prevention through intelligence, hence, the importance of a well-oiled counter-terrorism set-up.
Personally and judging by this latest incident and reports coming out, I believe that the latter (well-oiled counter-terrorism) Gibraltar appears to be up to the task, this is not only encouraging but must be of great peace of mind to everyone.
Terrorism is perhaps one of the most challenging problems of our times. For some of us, the effect of terrorism may have not hit home yet, having not yet really suffered at the hands of terrorists.
Can one say for sure that "we are safe?" I guess not! It doesn't matter anymore which part of the world you live in. The unfortunate reality is that terrorism has gone global and every world citizen is equally susceptible and vulnerable. There is really nowhere to hide. Every time you take a plane or a bus, or if your abroad and take a train, you can't help wondering in the back of your mind - am I safe?
The Gibraltar Government for their part has done all it can do, quite rightly they quickly issued a press notice describing the incident so close to Gibraltar ‘as a reminder to all on the Rock that we should always remain vigilant and report any concerns or suspicions to the Royal Gibraltar Police’.
The world has lost its innocence, not that there was much innocence earlier. It’s been stripped naked and you have the spectre of terrorism staring you in the face, challenging you and your or our way of life. So, what do we do?
The takeaway to this whole issue and I say again is that ‘Terror Can Strike Anywhere’ where you live, where you work, where your kids go to school, even where you have your morning coffee. However, with that said, we cannot live in fear! The key is to be prepared as a community and to make certain our children are prepared.
Are you? Are they?