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