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Volume 2, No. 6 - November 2002

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Armchair Counter-Terrorism
Editorial Team

Last week's hostage-taking by Chechens in Moscow ended in dramatic fashion. As their deadline to blow up over 700 hostages approached, the terrorists were getting increasingly violent and killed two hostages. The Russian authorities implemented a well-thought out plan, storming the theater building after using a gas that apparently incapacitated the terrorists before they could trigger explosions that would have leveled the entire building. Most of the terrorists died in the operation. Adverse effects of the gas also killed over
a hundred hostages, while the rest were rescued.

This was one of the rare instances after Entebbe, when authorities anywhere in the world outfoxed terrorists in a major hostage-taking operation, and rescued a large majority of the hostages. However, the media around the world, instead of breathing a sigh of relief, turned against Moscow. Questions were raised about the tactics, the kind of gas used, or the level
used. Such accusations and insinuations are incredulous. What do these armchair counter-terrorists propose that Moscow should have done? Negotiated with the terrorists? Given into their demands, so that future hostage-takers get a PR boost? Do they realize after September 11 that they are playing with fire?

After all, that's what the Indian government did a couple of years ago in the Indian Airlines hijacking. The three stalwart Pakistani terrorist leaders released as a result, Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Zargar, and yes, Sheikh Omar, joined up with the Al Qaeda and Taliban, and their actions have resulted in thousands of Indian deaths since. At least one of the three, Omar, is implicated in funding the September 11 attacks and the killing of Daniel Pearl. Azhar has single-handedly created the dreaded Jaish-e-Muhammed. Zargar has revived his Al-Umar Mujahideen and re-ignited Srinagar. And India became permanently etched in the jehadi mind as a soft target. Musharraf knows India's character from that incident, so why should he ease up on sponsoring terrorism? What a price to pay for saving hundred-odd passengers!

Businesses do a cost-benefit analysis before making crucial decisions. Governments need
to similarly be held accountable in the long run. Perhaps these two incidents are an indicator of which one of the two countries, Russia or India will win the jehad survivor game.

The questions keep on coming. Did Russian authorities over-gas the theater? Is that why so many of the hostages died? Well we are going to hazard a guess that there isn't much scientific data on how much of a particular gas can be pumped into a theater building populated with hundreds of starving, stressed people and dozens of trigger-happy, desperate jehadis. Its got to be just enough that the terrorists pass out instantaneously before they get the chance to hit that button. And its got to be not too much to kill the hostages.

Let's ask the armchair counter-terrorists - which side would they err on?


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