IN counterterrorism (CT), ‘facilitation’ is much talked about, but the community’s role in discouraging facilitation and successfully investigating it are least understood. Militancy-infested societies may have hundreds of facilitators, but sympathisers may be many more. Effective CT needs clarity in distinguishing between facilitators and sympathisers.
Facilitation may be defined as assistance provided to a banned person or a banned militant organisation through active involvement in a non-conventional crime falling under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). That includes provision of food and shelter; assistance in reconnaissance of a target; arrangements to further the execution of an act of terrorism, such as renting vehicles and buildings; providing technical support and procuring fake CNICs, SIMs, fake IMEIs, weapons and explosives; helping with border crossing, assistance in pre- and post-attack situations; and acting as a bridge between the offenders and their handlers.
Facilitation converts the militants’ aims into reality. However, sympathisers have no active role in the commission of scheduled offences under ATA. They disseminate hate material and the militants’ narrative through social media and pamphlets. Facilitators work actively, while sympathisers usually remain dormant and silently support a narrative. Facilitators may provide services either for ideological or monetary incentives and may be affiliated with a militant organisation or a criminal gang.
Why do individuals become facilitators? If they’re drawn by an alluring narrative offered by extremists, then what is the national counter-narrative? If there is any counter-narrative, why did it not effectively counter the radical ideology? Why is the community reluctant to share information about facilitators? In the absence of any operational apparatus for community policing, how can the community be kept motivated to cooperate with police?
Most terrorist acts involve assistance from others.
Prevention of terrorism warrants understanding of the dynamics of facilitation. What are the minimum requirements for suicide terrorism? For the furtherance of a terrorist act, there are three main prerequisites: (1) intent (2) access to weapons or explosives and (3) access to an enemy target. Mere intent may not suffice, as access to weapons and enemy targets require facilitation at certain stages. In most suicide bombings, the jackets and explosives were made and supplied by others.
It is difficult for an individual to simultaneously be an expert in bomb-making and an attacker. However, access to technology has facilitated aspirants in finding online recipes for bomb-making: thus, it is imperative for regulatory authorities to block access to such websites.
The prevention of facilitation was incorporated in para 2 (d) of the UN Security Council Resolution 1373, which asserted that all states shall “prevent those who finance, plan, facilitate or commit terrorist act from using their respective territories for those purposes against other states or their citizens”.
In Pakistan, after the APS attack, there was a realisation of the need to detect, deter and detain facilitators. The National Action Plan missed incorporating any direct reference about measures against facilitators. However, ATA 1997 covers certain aspects of facilitation. In 2013, through Section 6(2)(a) in the ATA, facilitation was brought within the definition of a terrorist. Section 11A was also inserted in 2013 which said that if an organisation is involved in ‘facilitation’, that will be considered an act of terrorism. Section 21(I) and (J) deal with punishments for aid abetment and harbouring.
ATA’s Section 21H explains the admissibility of a confession in front of a police officer not below the rank of superintendent; however, it has been observed that courts often regard such confessions with suspicion and the benefit goes to the accused. To ensure conviction for facilitation, it is essential to understand the real essence of Section 21H, and give due legal weight to statements recorded in the presence of an SP.
Discouraging sympathisers needs a more clearly defined and amplified counter-narrative. That is not possible without community outreach and active media engagement. Deterring facilitation warrants public information and education. Community policing is key to a vigilant and safe neighbourhood, which helps in preventing facilitation.
Sympathisers may be discouraged by strictly denying extremists space and time and preventing glorification of extremist narratives in the media. Effective steps against religious persecution will also discourage sympathisers. An effective check on facilitation requires registration and monitoring of the business of property and car dealers, hotels, and inns, and timely sharing of information about tenants, guests, and transactions involving vehicles.
The idea of severing the nexus between terrorists in remote areas and their facilitators in urban areas needs instant conversion into reality.
The writer is author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.
Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2022