Political Committee Briefing

The Question of the Prevention of Domestic Terrorism

An act of domestic terrorism constitutes a terrorist attack from within that nation; the term is most often heard in relation to terrorism within western nations, such as the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Domestic terrorism is usually but not always performed by citizens of that nation, often with the intent to intimidate, coerce, or influence government action. It is usually associated with an established group or organisation, such as Al-Qaeda or the Earth Liberation Front, although radical acts committed by individuals or small groups can sometimes also be considered to be acts of domestic terrorism.

Recent examples of domestic terrorism include:

  • The 2011 Norway attacks – Anders Behring Breivik was responsible for both a car bomb in the Norwegian capital Oslo, and a mass shooting on the holiday island of Utøya, killing 78 people.
  • The 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings – The Tsaernaev brothers detonated two pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and later engaged in a shootout with police. 5 people were killed and 264 others injured
  • The 7/7 attacks in London – On 7 July 2005, bombs exploded on 3 underground trains. A double-decker bus was also destroyed. The bombs were detonated by four homegrown terrorist suicide bombers. The explosions killed 52 people and resulted in over 700 injuries.

Domestic terrorists have an advantage in that they face fewer logistical problems, such as entering the target nation, as well as familiarity with society and customs, and greater ease in identifying targets. This makes them valuable assets to international terrorist organizations. Al-Qaeda recognizes the value of native citizens and has tried to encourage operations toward homegrown terrorism, according to al-Qaeda’s U.S.-born spokesperson, Adam Gadahn. This new strategy focuses on inspiring American-Muslims to become one-man terrorist cells. Dispatching less experienced recruits decreases the time that law enforcement has to identify and detect them. Low-level members provide a low-cost option for terrorist organizations that are meant to consume the attention of law enforcement and intelligence organizations in the hope that one will succeed, or a greater operation may go unnoticed. Additionally, handling internal dissent, including terrorism, without infringing upon the right to privacy of their citizens, is a challenge for democratic nations.

The internet has become a major cause of concern for those trying to prevent domestic terrorism, particularly in the USA. There are estimated to be 15,000 websites promoting and actively supporting terrorist activites, and 80% of these are hosted on US-based servers. In addition, the feeling of community potential terrorists feel on the forums and message boards online is a further radicalization incubator. Inspire is an online English-language magazine published by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Purported to be created by Samir Khan, a U.S. citizen and cyber-jihadist, the magazine uses American idioms and phrasing and does not appear to have British or South Asian influences in its language, lessening the cultural divide between some of the home-grown terrorists and the organisations which they come to represent.

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The Question of Tibet

Tibet is an autonomous region within the People’s Republic of China. It became part of the PRC in 1951, after declaring its own independence in 1912. Many Tibetans accuse the Chinese of suppressing Tibetan culture, freedom of expression and worship. They are particularly resentful of efforts to supplant their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama with a communist-approved alternative.

Another bone of contention is the increasing numbers of Han Chinese migrants arriving in the region, which causes resentment among the local population.

The communist authorities disagree. They point to major infrastructure projects such as the railway linking Lhasa to Qinghai province, and the growth of industry in the region. China’s leaders point out that Tibetan areas are much wealthier under Beijing’s rule than they would otherwise have been. Beijing also says Tibetan communities enjoy a great deal of autonomy under a system of devolved government. China says Tibet has officially been part of the Chinese nation since the mid-13th Century, so should continue to be ruled by Beijing.

Many Tibetans disagree, pointing out that the Himalayan region was an independent kingdom for many centuries, and that Chinese rule over Tibet has not been constant. For example, after a brief military conflict between China and Tibet in the early part of the 20th Century, Tibet declared itself an independent republic in 1912. Although its status did not receive widespread recognition, Tibet functioned as an independent government until China sent troops to Tibet in 1950, and summoned a Tibetan delegation the following year to sign a treaty ceding sovereignty to China.

Since then there have been periods of unrest and sporadic uprisings as resentment to Beijing’s rule has persisted. There have also been troubles due to human rights abuses in Tibet. Human rights abuses documented in Tibet include the deprivation of life, disappearances, torture, poor prison conditions, arbitrary arrest and detention, denial of fair public trial, denial of freedom of speech and of press and Internet freedoms. They also include political and religious repression, forced abortions, sterilisation, and even infanticide. The security apparatus has employed torture and degrading treatment in dealing with some detainees and prisoners, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2009 report.  Tibetans repatriated from Nepal have also reportedly suffered torture, including electric shocks, exposure to cold, and severe beatings, and been forced to perform heavy physical labor. Prisoners have been subjected routinely to “political investigation” sessions and punished if deemed insufficiently loyal to the state.

Since 2009, there have been about 100 reported self-immolations in Tibet. Foreign journalists are banned from the area, making reports hard to confirm. In General Debate on September 17, the UN delegate from Germany urged “China to address the deep-rooted causes of the on-going self-immolations in a peaceful manner, respecting cultural and religious rights of Tibetans.” Many of the self-immolations are in protest against the religious oppression of Tibetans by the communist government, and against the treatment of their religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. Many international and Tibetan activists continue to call for Tibetan independence.

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