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Volume 2, No. 7 - December 2002

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The Commercial Plane Threat: A Symptom Of A Larger Malady
Editorial Team

The failed November 29th missile attack on an Israeli commercial jet carrying over 260 people in Kenya exposes a grave international threat that has been pushed under the carpet despite last year's September 11 attacks. No amount of baggage checking, passenger profiling, or locking of cockpit doors will save planes from a well planned attack using inexpensive, highly portable, heat-seeking missiles near the airport "perimeter". There is some talk about securing the airport perimeter. However, the missiles can be used from a range much farther out than the kilometer or two radius that any airport could reasonably secure. The threat is in fact not new at all, and as often happens, is only out in the open because of a tragedy that almost happened.

Two Pakistanis and their Indian Muslim accomplice were recently arrested in Hong Kong while trying to buy anti-aircraft missiles. Pakistan of course has the dubious distinction of having the largest number of CIA-supplied Stingers in circulation after the war against the Soviets ended. Thousands of Stingers were bought back by the CIA, but the fate of innumerable more is unknown. There were persistent reports that some of the Stingers may have found their way to Kashmir in the last couple of years, through the usual Pakistan-ISI-terrorist group channels. Pakistanis were believed to have trained the Somali militia which shot down two US helicopters in Mogadishu in 1993. And among the dozen suspects arrested in Kenya in the recent terrorist attacks, a majority were Pakistanis. There has been increased usage of such missiles recently, most visibly in Chechnya, where Russian helicopters have been frequently shot down and hundreds of Russian soldiers killed. The leaders of Rwanda and Burundi were killed in 1994 after a suspected missile attack on their airplane, touching off the biggest incident of genocide in recent history. Combat aircraft and VVIP planes now commonly use flares and other means to deflect incoming missiles.

If the international structure and economy are not to be brought on to their knees, increased cooperation is necessary among nations to combat terrorism. This cooperation has to go beyond the symptomatic such as use of protective devices on commercial planes, which may be too expensive, or securing airport perimeters, which may be infeasible. The focus on international terrorism has been lost in the US duel with Iraq on inspections. Furthermore, US obstruction of other nation's struggles with terrorism, through actions such as pressuring Israel to go easy on Arafat and apparently blocking Indian action against Pakistani terrorist camps, is undermining its own declared anti-terror war. The US-led war against the Al Qaeda, which first allowed thousands of terrorists to escape into Pakistan, and then left it to Pakistanis to round them up, is in the danger of failing. The Al Qaeda have merged with like-minded terrorists in Pakistan, and established a new command center in that nation. From Pakistan many of those terrorists have spread around the world and now threaten many nations, including the US itself. Unless the US frees other nations to deal with terrorists, and holds nations funding and hosting terrorists, including some of its own allies, accountable for their actions, the international threat from terrorist  missiles, bombs and guns is unlikely to abate.


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