First, its structure. eastern terrorism does not have a command structure in a paramilitary style. It is a much flatter organisation. But it does operate on a network basis in a way similar to the deployment of operational personnel under the western model. It has much more direct control from the centre, or at least much less levels between control and execution.
But the primary difference between eastern and western terrorism is the nature of the targets.
With western terrorism, there are occasionally political human targets, and sometimes isolated targets with groups of people expected to be killed or injured but the intention is not to kill significant numbers. This is because western terrorism is not about killing people, it is about economic damage and civil disruption: keeping people nervous. Indeed, in its purest form, terrorism does not require any significant damage or any deaths or injury – it just needs to pre-occupy governments, consume resources and worry populations. That is why the firebombs in the dustbins in the City of London were such an effective terrorist weapon. After a time, the IRA needed only to make an occasional reminder of their ability.
On the other hand, eastern terrorism, as in the al Qaeda / Jemaah Islamiyah model as recently displayed is to target high profile premises but with the intention of causing significant numbers of casualties.
However, there are indications that this may be changing. The attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta in may have marked a change in strategy – and if so, it is not isolated.
A few weeks before the Jakarta attack, a fire-bomber threw a firebomb at the Australian High Commission here in Kuala Lumpur. It burst harmlessly against the wall. The attack was naïve and almost certainly bound to fail to even get over the wall, much less cause any damage. But it did what terrorism is supposed to do – it caused concern amongst the population. And all parts of society in KL are now talking about when KL will be a target. There are endless rumours and supposedly official warnings to stay away from areas where there are large numbers of tourists or high profile targets, especially on festivals and – for example, 11 September. This is despite the fact that there is no specific evidence that there is any intention for KL to become a target. This shows that terrorism is working.
The operation at Australian Embassy in Jakarta may have been bungled: perhaps the intention was to claim more lives.
But we think that in fact it was one of a number of examples of a change in strategy.
At its heart, terrorism is a public relations strategy. The terrible twins of al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah as well as some replicant groups, have arrived on the international stage in spectacular fashion and caught the attention of the world.
But shock tactics only work to a point.