Ten Years After: ‘Terror Outsourcing’ As An Evolving Phenomenon – Analysis


By Medha Chaturvedi

A decade ago, when al Qaeda attacked the New York Twin Towers, terrorism gained a new and bold dimension, stepping away from covert to more audacious attacks. Ten years hence, a lot has changed-the process of force withdrawal by the US from Afghanistan is on and Iraq is not far behind. Terrorists’ strategies have also seen a paradigm shift and ‘outsourcing’ has become the norm of the day. What is terror outsourcing? Why is it being employed? What changed post 9/11 for this phenomenon to gain more prominence? What will be its impact?

Given the lack of a coherent definition of terror outsourcing, the author has taken the liberty to define it as the practice of localizing a terrorist activity and sub-contracting the operational work to a third person/unit in return for a pre-agreed remuneration.

WTC attacks
WTC attacks

Post 9/11, in the wake of heightened security measures and greater racial and organizational profiling, terror outsourcing has become increasingly common. In addition to monetary consideration is the ease of logistical and technological support in sponsoring terrorism overseas. Also, the stealth desired by the sponsor due to its dissimilarity with the target is a contributing factor.

Outsourcing Terror

The trend was observed as early as six months after the 9/11 bombings when a failed bombing effort in Los Angeles brought to fore this tactic employed by terror outfits. Al Qaeda, in a bid to threaten the American security establishments, had planned to attack the LA International Towers. It employed an Indonesian gangster Riduan Isamuddin alias Hambali who had allegedly aided Jemmah Islamiah and al Qaeda in later incidents including the 2002 Bali Bombings. He was paid handsomely to carry out this attack.

He recruited four other people, including one ‘white’ US-based pilot named Richard Reid. With his attire and mongoloid features, Hambali passed the security check easily while security personnel rounded up persons with middle-eastern features. The plot to blow up a plane by a shoe bomb so that the adjoining building collapsed was foiled when one operative was arrested on a traffic violation. The entire plan was thus revealed. Hambali was eventually arrested in 2003 in Thailand.

Indian Mujahedeen is another example of outsourcing. After the 2008 Delhi serial blasts, it was revealed that the IM comprised three modules-in Delhi, Gujarat and Mumbai-which were all working under one Amir Raza Khan, a close aide of Lashkar-e-Toiba operations commander Abu Alkama . The Delhi module head, Atif Bashir was killed in the Batla House Encounter; Gujarat head Riyaz Bhatkal is still absconding and Mumbai head, Sadiq, was arrested in 2008. Sadiq revealed during interrogations to have visited LeT’s surveillance and intelligence head Azam Cheema in Bahawalpur, Pakistan on his way to a training camp. Cheema is also wanted for the 2006 Mumbai train bombings.

In fact, post 9/11, with the exception of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks where the attackers were from Pakistan, most attacks in India have seen the use of locals to carry out the actual attack. In the 26/11 attack also, the Pakistani attackers were common criminals from remote parts of the country who were paid large sums to carry out the attack. Additionally, terror scouting for localization of terror attacks has also become very common.

The alleged links between Pakistan’s ISI and gangster Dawood Ibrahim bring out the dangerous connections between crime and terrorism. Indian and American security agencies believe that Ibrahim has been supporting activities carried out by LeT and al Qaeda globally. Besides being the mastermind of the 1993 Mumbai bombings, he was allegedly involved in financing and providing logistical support to the Parliament attack and terror attacks in Gujarat post 2002. The prime accused of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Ajmal Kasab admitted during interrogations that Dawood had been providing LeT logistical support, arms and ammunition for carrying out covert attacks in India. As a result, he is on various Most Wanted Lists globally in 2002 and is allegedly hiding in Pakistan with ISI’s support.

Even China faces this trend. Terrorism in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is supposedly imported from Pakistan. The most active outfit in the region, East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) allegedly has had close relations to al Qaeda and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan since 2004. It was also reported that ETIM received logistical and monetary support from al Qaeda for its activities in 2010 following which sleeper cells from among the local populace were set up in Xinjiang.

Impact of Outsourcing

Terror outsourcing indicates the absence of a definite chain of command due to the operative’s non-affiliation to any specific group. This mars post-facto investigations. In addition, the international nature of terror outsourcing renders it tricky to convict operatives. The lack of ideology makes it difficulties for intelligence organizations to intercept attacks. With a rise in the role of fringe groups, ideology has taken a backseat and money is the biggest consideration.

Another disturbing impact is in the increase in retaliatory terror attacks. The case of Norwegian bomb attacker Anders Behring Breivik, who planted two bombs in Oslo in July 2011 killing 90 people, exemplifies this. Breivik expressed fear of ‘Pakistanization’ of Europe by 2083 in a 1600-page document, ‘2083: A European Declaration of Independence’. During interrogation, he said that it was the fear of several mini Pakistans coming up in Europe which would make it easier for Islamic terrorist outfits to set local bases and conduct large scale terror attacks which made him plan and carry out the Oslo attacks.

Medha Chaturvedi
Research Officer, IPCS
email: [email protected]


IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

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