- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

In “Countering Terrorism,” Michael Chandler and Rohan Gunaratna argue that the United States and its allies have squandered their opportunity to defeat the terrorist threat posed by al Qaeda and its affiliates. The authors find the United States and its allies “have not appreciably reduced the threat,” which is growing significantly across the world, stretching from Asia to Europe.

Principally, America has failed by acting unilaterally and not cooperatively, for instance through the United Nations, and by seeking short-term political expediency, such as intervening in Iraq (termed a “strategic defeat”) and allowing Iran’s geopolitical role to grow.

To effectively meet the challenges contemporary terrorism poses, the authors recommend, “it is necessary to develop a comprehensive understanding of the threat.” A cogent understanding of the threat and the means necessary to counter it, however, are not found in this volume.

This is, in fact, two books combined into one: Mr. Gunaratna’s often disjointed, sensationalistic and difficult to follow assessments of the threat posed by al Qaeda and its networked affiliates, and Mr. Chandler’s recommendation for international cooperation as the means for effective counterterrorism, without showing how it can be executed.

Mr. Gunaratna heads the terrorism research center at the formerly named Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore. His chapters consist of undocumented claims, and, as if this were not bad enough, exaggerated self-promotion.

In an assertion bound to evoke derision in U.S. government counterterrorism circles, Mr. Gunaratna writes that “while much of the threat posed by al Qaeda is known and manageable, the multiple threats posed by its associates and affiliated entities have not been fully studied and assessed. Even within the U.S. intelligence community… there are very few specialists who know and understand the Islamist terrorist groups associated or affiliated with al Qaeda. The real threat to the West comes from the politicized and radicalized migrant and diaspora communities.”

This is an affront to all who deal with these issues; the implication is that only Mr. Gunaratna understands the problem. In fact, many experts who study al Qaeda know the information he relays.

Moreover, while reviewing his sections I found more than 100 unsourced claims. For example, he estimates the current strength of al Qaeda is “a few hundred members.” In Yemen, he claims, “only 35 percent of the country is under government control.” (What does this really mean?) The late Abu Musab Zarqawi’s Iraq network has “either absorbed” or “influences” other Salafi jihadi networks to become “one of the most serious terrorist threats to the European continent and beyond to North America.”(On the contrary, terrorism in Europe is largely indigenous, not Iraqi-affiliated).

The list goes on. “Al Qaeda was responsible for attacking the World Trade Towers in 1993.” (In fact, a loose affiliate was involved, but not al Qaeda). “Several hundred al Qaeda operatives, led by Saif al-Adel and Saad bin Laden, are located in Iran” (“Several hundred”? Does this mean most of al Qaeda is hiding in Iran? Aren’t they in Pakistan’s Waziristan province?). By “2004-5 al Qaeda related cells existed in some 60-70 countries around the world.” (Which countries and how large are their cells?). And, finally, “more than 300 radicalized Muslims living in Europe have traveled to Iraq and experienced the jihad.” (Where’s the proof?).

Since none of these figures and estimates is documented, the reader is left wondering if Mr. Gunaratna invented them. His portions of the book, as a result, cannot be taken seriously.

Mr. Chandler’s chapters, on the other hand, are well reasoned, reflecting the sound judgment and experience of a former British Army officer who also served as the chairman of the U.N. group established in 2001 to monitor sanctions against the Taliban and the al Qaeda network.

To Mr. Chandler, reducing terrorism requires resolving four problem areas: transforming Islam into a more tolerant religion, harnessing the world’s clergy to fight religious intolerance, fostering coexistence for Muslim minorities in Western societies and solving regional conflicts, such as the Palestinian-Israeli one. International collaboration, whether through the U.N. framework or among governments, is key to counterterrorism effectiveness, he believes.

These recommendations are reasonable but insufficient. To dismantle terrorism, deep-rooted problems in Muslim societies must be resolved, centering on improving the relationship between orthodox religion and modernity. It also requires encouraging governments committed to creating opportunities for all their citizens to advance economically, socially and politically. Lacking such a solution, the pool for potential terrorists keeps growing.

As a result, this book cannot be recommended as an authoritative source on counterterrorism.

Joshua Sinai is a program manager for counterterrorism studies at The Analysis Corporation in McLean, Va.

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