Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Korea Herald: "Foreign terrorists active in Korea: NIS report"

Near Itaewon Subway Station
Seoul, South Korea
(Image from Wikipedia)

I've just recently read an alarming report by journalist Song Sang-ho, who drew on information relayed from Korea's National Intelligence Service for his article in yesterday's Korea Herald: "Foreign terrorists active in Korea: NIS report" (September 22, 2008). The link leads to a Daum portal site because the Korea Herald's website is set up to prevent linking, but the articles are identical.

Yes, that's right, the Herald doesn't seem to want people reading its online newspaper, and that's certainly unfortunate in this case, for this is very serious material, as "more than 70 foreign terror suspects have been captured in Korea in the last five years." According to the report, "the National Intelligence Service began an antiterrorism crackdown in 2003, which has led to the capture of 74 people in 19 cases with ties to international terrorist networks."

This crackdown began in 2003 because the Korean government realized that in sending its troops to Iraq as part of the coalition, it would be setting itself up as a target for Islamist terrorist attacks within Korea.

The terrorist networks discovered include members of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Jemaah Islamiah. There's also this:
In February last year, 10 members of Hawala, a huge network of money brokers primarily located in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, were captured for illegal foreign currency transactions.
That might be a bit misleading, for "hawala" is not a proper noun and therefore not the name of an organization. It's a method, rooted in Islamic law, of transferring money to distant locations. A hawala broker in one place accepts money from a local client and contacts a second hawala broker in another place, asking that second broker to dispose of the money as the client has directed. Both brokers receive a small fee, and the debt between them is settled later. No promissory notes are exchanged between the brokers, so the transaction operates on the honor system and thus does not require formal law for enforcement. No records are kept aside from the tallies each hawala broker jots down or remembers.

We need little imagination to understand how this sort of system might prove useful for funding terrorist groups.

How did these terrorist networks establish themselves here in South Korea? The article does not state, explicitly, but the answer is obvious. These networks have formed within the foreign worker community, many of whom are Muslim and come from places as distant from each other as Pakistan and Indonesia. I mention these two countries because the information helps us understand the presence of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, on the one hand, and Jemaah Islamiah, on the other. The former are based in Pakistan and the latter in Indonesia.

I suspected this back in 2003 and advised a church near Osan Air Base in Songtan not to include any of its American members on outreach programs directed to Muslims in South Korea. I pointed out that many of the Americans in that church had military connections -- either as soldiers or as contractors -- and that since the US was currently fighting Islamist groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, then sending such Americans on mission work among the Muslim community in Korea might not be such a good idea. I suggested that the work be handled solely by Koreans.

Whether I was providing wise counsel, I don't know, but according to the report:
The networks, including al-Qaida, are alleged to have whipped up anti-American sentiment, sought to gather intelligence on U.S. forces stationed here, and smuggled illicit drugs to bankroll their terrorist activities.
This incitement of anti-American sentiment has probably taken place only among Muslims within the migrant-worker community here in Korea, but I would not be surprised to learn of links to Koreans on the hardcore left, nor would I be surprised to learn of connections with North Korean spies. North Korea has links to radical Islamists in Pakistan, for the North was part of the international network set up by Abdul Qadeer Khan to exchange materials and information for establishing nuclear weapons programs.

Perhaps the Islamists here are merely using South Korea "as a safe haven for terrorists' money laundering," as the article suggests, but if they're also here to "gather intelligence on U.S. forces stationed" in Korea, then they might be planning more than just distant terrorist acts -- something that I've previously speculated about -- and they wouldn't have to look far for a target, for America's Yongsan Garrison borders on Itaewon, where many migrant workers live.

National Assembly representative Won Hye-young, who serves on the National Assembly's Intelligence Committee, openly warns about terrorist attacks in Korea:
"Given the Korea-U.S. alliance and our status in the international community, the possibility of terrorist attacks here in Korea is higher than at any other times."
South Korea, therefore, ought to keep the pressure on these groups -- and from this report's information, I gather that Korea is doing so.

On a more personal note, I guess that I ought to take precautions myself since I often blog about Islamism in ways that Islamists might not appreciate . . . and some of these Islamists are living not so very far away.

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At 11:13 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

I see Burger King in the opening picture. Do you take your kids to these types of American eateries, and do they like them as much as my kids did(do!)?

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

My kids do like such places for the hamburgers and fries, but as much as your kids do? That's a tough benchmark to ascertain but perhaps even tougher to equal.

At any rate, my kids prefer restaurants such as Outback.

We've been to that particular Burgar King, by the way.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:24 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

Do they use American beef?

At 12:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Probably not.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:59 PM, Blogger Saber Fencer said...

I just finished writing a short piece on possible threats in Korea...if you'd like, I'd be happy to share with you.

At 3:31 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Saber Fencer, thank you. I'd be happy to receive the document. How should I access it? Should I go to your site and send you an email?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:24 PM, Blogger John B said...

That was a remarkably alarming post.

Many countries pad their numbers a bit when reporting terrorist cases, in an attempt to get on the good side of the US and UK. The most exaggerated example would be the case in Macedonia a few years back where officials faked a terrorist gunfight. I couldn't find any sources in my quick search for the possibility of exaggerating figures, but I think it needs to be considered a possibility.

Secondly, the wide-ranging financial networks used by terrorists are not exclusively for the purpose of terrorism. I know the from U of Idaho student who got picked up as a "terrorist" was just managing a website on Islamic nationalism, but one of his sponsors was loosely connected to terrorist money. Simply because the network is so widely distributed means a lot of people get involved who are not exactly terrorist material. I think some skepticism is warranted in these cases.

After all, money is money, and there's a powerful incentive not to ask a lot of questions when someone's pushing some in your direction. This is why accounting is the arcane art that it is.

[One should point out, with Korea as eager for foreign investments as it is, this is a danger.]

In short, I'd want to see details; who's working for who, in what capacity, before I took a report like this very seriously.

I think, there haven't been many independent studies, or at well-publicized independent studies, on the financial crackdowns that lead to these busts. I would like to see more about them.

At 5:55 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B, thanks for the comments.

You're right, of course, to suggest caution, for we're dealing with intangibles, the possible consequences of future conditionals -- known in their certainty to God alone -- so we can have only inspired guesses, if even those.

Perhaps Assemblyman Won Hye-young, member of the of the main opposition Democratic Party, is exaggerating the danger to throw doubt upon the usefulness of the American alliance.

I've thought of that, but better to err on the side of caution than to risk a Korean 9/11.

Or so it seems . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:17 PM, Blogger John B said...

Caution is good, but I think we also need to consider the welfare of the foreigner community, and the sentiment of Koreans to the rest of the world.

And, the threat of terrorism can be a hell of a money pit if you don't exercise good judgment and thoughtful administration.

At any rate, I thought your advice on sending Koreans on outreach programs to Muslim enclaves is a good idea. Not for safety reasons, but because American expats tend to be pretty transient. Establishing more permanent, positive ties with the Korean middle class can only be a good thing. Assuming there is no unwelcome proselytizing, of course.

At 8:19 PM, Blogger John B said...

While I'm spamming your comment section, I found an article in ASIA PULSE, Mar 23 2004, "Korean Intelligence Finds No Link Between Hawala and Terrorism", from Yonhap wire service. It's a short article reporting a statement from the Korea Financial Intelligence Unit that there is a functioning hawala network in Korea, and it was being investigated, but it was not related to terrorism and that Korea was doing well at preventing terrorist money-launderers from entering.

I grabbed it from Lexis Nexis.

At 8:52 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, the Korean 'skepticism' about foreigners is to be noted, and we all know that foreigners from non-Western countries are treated less well, so I wouldn't want the search for terrorists to cast a pall over all foreigners.

That point about hawala is interesting. I wonder who's right? The NIS, or the KFIU?

I'll try to take a look.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:13 PM, Blogger John B said...

The KFIU statement was from 2004, while apparently the hawala deportations occurred much more recently. It could be that someone had a change of mind, or there could be more evidence available. A lot can happen in four years.

Or an overeager analyst and an overzealous Assemblyman . . . but I've been snarky enough.

My research skills suck, incidentally.

I'm skimming through some journal searches now, but I don't see any more mention.

I owe you a thanks, though. You've pointed me into a new topic to geek out over.

At 2:53 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Perhaps the KFIU and the NIS are both right, the former then and the latter now.

The KFIU's March 2004 report would probably be of data gathered in 2003, and that's when the data-gathering started, it seems.

The NIS's recent report (2008) would include all the years from 2003 to sometime this year, I presume.

Of course, I'm not in the loop, so I'm speculating.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:13 PM, Anonymous Hajir said...

Good Afternoon Prof. Hodges

The article did not surprise me, eventhough it was quite alarming. I was always skeptical about the location of the Sunni mosque near-by those tiny allies which are the hang out for prostitutes and soldiers close to the station.
A mosque should be located in a 'clean' ( I mean 'clean' according to the Islamic values)environment as a holy place, therefore there could be a possibility for other purposes for setting up the mosque adjacent to the U.S. army camp, which can justify the presence of those Islamic fundamentalists hanging around that area.

Just to mention, the term 'hawalah' these days is used as a term meaning 'remittence' in the form of modern system of banking too.



At 3:29 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Hajir, for the remarks.

I hadn't thought about the location of the mosque, but isn't a mosque usually located in an area where Muslims live? That should be sufficient to explain its presence near Itaewon, shouldn't it?

I wasn't aware of the dual use of the term "hawala," but with the rise of Islamic banking, I suppose that a lot of terms will be coming into use.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:14 PM, Blogger Saber Fencer said...


The piece I wrote is still undergoing some revisions, but I'd be happy to share it with you....also to see what you think about it....please write me a note at saber.fencer@gmail.com and I will send it to you.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I sent one earlier today, so you might find it in your email folder, but I'll send another just in case.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so islamic supposed terrorists are doing what the us military have been doing forever

bringing in illicit drugs

is this the same or different?

At 2:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, do you have any evidence of official US military policy to bring illicit drugs into Korea?

At any rate, the bigger concern with Islamist (note "Islamist") terrorists in Korea is that they might initiate terrorist attacks here in Korea, not only on American targets but also upon Korean ones.

Let's hope not, but I suggest that we also take the threat seriously and keep potential Islamist terrorists under surveillance.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:29 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

P.S. By the way, at 11:50 a.m. on a weekday, you might not want to be using a PW High School computer to Google for Korea Herald newspaper articles.

Jeffery Hodges

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