Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 18:02 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 18:02 | SYDNEY

Terrorism: A lethal osmosis

15 September 2009 09:37

The discovery and defusing on Wednesday last week of a 270kg improvised explosive device in Northern Ireland points to a worrying practice that security analysts well beyond the UK should be considering carefully: violent extremist groups are searching globally for tactics, techniques and procedures. Reporting in the Financial Times, the Guardian, the UK Telegraph and our own ABC reveals that bomb componentry, size, detonation arrangements and placement in this incident had much in common with that in other conflict zones around the world.

This shows how some violent extremist groups – not just in Northern Ireland but elsewhere – are becoming what are described as 'learning organisations' and exploiting media that transcend societies, ideologies, causes or command & control networks.

How do we know? As an analogy, almost every army has the tactic of ambush in its doctrine books. The Australian Army, for instance, teaches a particular style of ambush; the placement of individual weapons, devices and personnel inside the ambush site are all described and explained. After an ambush has occurred, a smart intelligence collection team could analyse the site and — if the style parallels with our profile — determine that the ambush was carried out by an Australian Army patrol. Or, if we weren't operating in that area, they could then reasonably deduce it was a group trained in or otherwise following our doctrine.

Last week's Northern Ireland example, as with earlier incidents in January and May this year, demonstrates traits that seem to come from non-Irish sources. Similarly, evidence is amassing (eg. here, herehere and here) that violent extremist groups elsewhere are searching globally for new ways of conducting their activities, and not simply doing what has always been done in following or evolving their own historical 'doctrine'.

This is a wakeup call for those who consider that such threats are unlikely to proliferate beyond particular ideologies, societies or cultures. Violent groups are not limited to established methods of inflicting violence and will use the tools at their fingertips through globalisation to learn about and adopt 'best practices'.

Photo by Flickr user The Revolution, used under a Creative Commons license.