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Beijing Olympics—Security

A Paper prepared for presentation during a Discussion at Shanghai on May 7, 2008

Types of Olympics-Related Problems

Two types of Olympics-related problems can arise

(a). Olympics-related incidents of a political and a psychological nature, which could be non-violent or violent, but which would not amount to terrorism.

(b). Olympics-related terrorist attacks or attempted attacks.

Olympics-Related Incidents

Examples of likely incidents:

  1. Symbolic protests in the form of wearing T-shirts with a slogan, shouting slogans etc.

  2. Demonstrations, which could be either static as before an office or a building or moving as in the case of a procession.

  3. Violent incidents involving attacks on individuals or private or public property.

  4. Confrontational situations with the police and other members of the security forces.

  5. Obstructions of traffic, public movements etc.

  6. . Acts of self-immolation

Objectives of Such Incidents:

  1. To create an embarrassment for the Chinese authorities and organisers of the Olympics

  2. To bring a bad name to China and to make the holding of the Games in Beijing a controversial issue.

  3. To highlight the grievances of the protestors in the eyes of the international community.

  4. To induce the international community to exercise pressure on the Chinese Government to address the grievances.

  5. To sabotage the successful holding of the Olympics.

Who can indulge in such incidents?

  1. The members of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), the supporters of the Dalai Lama and their foreign supporters.

  2. The Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan, the World Uighur Congress and other Uighur dissident organisations—pro-Al Qaeda as well as pro-West, based in China as well as abroad and their foreign supporters.

  3. The Falun Gong.

  4. Human rights activists—Chinese as well as foreigners—agitating against China on issues such as Chinese assistance to the Government of Sudan, alleged violations of human rights in China etc.

  5. Angry individual elements not associated with any organisation or movement.

When can such incidents take place?

  1. They have already started in Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas of China since March 10,2008.

  2. While the incidents in the Tibetan-inhabited areas were widespread and sustained, there have been reports of only one such incident in Xinjiang.

  3. The protest demonstrations against the Olympic flame—some of them violent— in some countries were also examples of such incidents.

  4. Such incidents are likely to continue with ups and downs till the Olympics are over. The upsurge of March in the Tibetan-inhabited areas has been followed by a decline. There could be more upsurges when the flame is brought to Tibet in the third week of June,2008, and during its passage through the Tibetan and Uighur inhabited areas as well as during the Olympics.

What types of incidents can take place during the Olympics?

Two types of incidents are possible.

  1. Diversionary—Mainly confined to the Tibetan-inhabited areas, Xinjiang and Hong Kong (Falun Gong and foreign supporters of the Tibetans and the Uighurs and foreign human rights activists). The purpose will be to draw attention away from the Olympics in Beijing and embarrass the Chinese Government and create a negative image of it.

  2. Direct—in Beijing itself by the same elements and for the same purpose.

While the Chinese authorities have every right to take whatever action is permissible under the law to maintain law and order, certain do’s and don’ts are advisable. These are:

  1. Avoid over-reaction. This makes the situation more difficult to handle.

  2. Avoid actions of a provocative nature such as large-scale preventive arrests, show-case trials and convictions of arrested suspects etc. These provoke further incidents.

  3. Keep the language against the protesters and dissenters polite and civilised. The State should not compete with the protesters in the use of rude language designed to over-demonise the dissenters. What is required is polite language and strong action of a non-provocative nature, which is justifiable under the law.

  4. Avoid divide and rule tactics such as mobilising one section of the people against another.

Lessons from the handling of incidents in the Tibetan-inhabited areas and during the passage of the Olympic flame:

  1. Inadequate preventive intelligence in the Tibetan-inhabited areas as well as from the cities on the route of the flame.

  2. Taken by surprise, over-projection of likely threats and over-reaction, which tended to further poison the atmosphere and add to the temperature. Some of these actions played into the hands of the protesters and dissenters. Protesters, dissenters, extremists and terrorists want the State to over-react. By over-reacting, the State plays into their hands.

Oympics-Related Terrorism

What are the components of an Olympics-related counter-terrorism architecture?

  1. Preventive intelligence.

  2. Threat and vulnerabilities perception, which may be based on actual intelligence available or, in the absence of such intelligence, on past experience and knowledge and professional insights.

  3. Preventive physical security, which can prevent terrorist threats, whether preventive intelligence is available or not.

  4. Crisis or consequence management if both intelligence and physical security fail.

Is preventive intelligence available on likely Olympics-related plans of terrorist organisations?

Not so far. The security architecture has, therefore, to be based on threats and vulnerabilities perception.

Threats & Vulnerabilities Perception:

Which organisations will have the motive to indulge in acts of terrorism during the Olympics?

  1. Al Qaeda: It looks upon Xinjiang as a territory, which historically belonged to the Ummah and needs to be recovered for the proposed Islamic Caliphate; it supports the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is a member of the International Islamic Front (IIF) For Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People; it is looking for an opportunity to launch a major terrorist strike against the US in retaliation against the US intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq and against Denmark for the cartoons depicting pictures of the Holy Prophet carried by a Danish newspaper. It could look upon the Beijing Olympics as providing an opportunity for a terrorist strike against the US or Denmark or both. It operates from North Waziristan in Pakistan.

  2. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) led by Tahir Yuldeshev: Member of Al Qaeda’s IIF. Based in North Waziristan. Operates mainly in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Its over-all objective is an independent Caliphate in Central Asia consisting of Eastern Turkestan and the Central Asian Republics. Trains the Uighur terrorists in its camps in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan.

  3. The Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) or Group. Headed by Ebu Yahya Muhammad Fatih. A splinter group of the IMU. Not a member of the IIF. Supports Al Qaeda’s ideology. Even though it consists largely of Uzbeks, projects itself as a multi-ethnic organisation, with a global objective as against the IMU’s regional objective. It trains Uighurs, Germans and others in its training camps in the Mir Ali area.

  4. The Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan. An exclusively Uighur organisation with links to Al Qaeda, the IMU and the IJU. Strongly anti-Chinese.

How about the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC)? Is it not a terrorist organisation?

No, it is not. It is a radical organisation, but not a terrorist organisation. It does not accept the Dalai Lama’s objective of an autonomous Tibet as an integral part of China. It advocates an independent Tibet to be achieved through political agitation not amounting to terrorism. It has no links with any terrorist organisation. Its links are with pro-US and pro-Taiwan Uighur organisations, which advocate an independent East Turkestan, but do not support the ideology of Al Qaeda and the IIF.

How about anti-India Pakistani jihadi organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ)?

All of them are members of Al Qaeda’s IIF. They are Wahabi in their orientation and support Al Qaeda’s pan-Islamic ideology. They did not exhibit any anti- Chinese feelings till the Pakistani army raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July,2007.Thereafter, their attitude changed slightly since they suspected that Pervez Musharraf ordered the raid under Chinese pressure after the students of the madrasas of the masjid kidnapped some Chinese women working in beauty parlours in Islamabad.

What kind of terrorist attacks can be expected?

  1. Diversionary: In Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and in foreign countries, particularly in Pakistan and the Central Asian Republics, against Chinese nationals and property. These could be before and during the Olympics.

  2. Direct: In Beijing and Hong Kong during the Olympics. (Note: This was written by me before going to Shanghai. At that time, I did not know that the football matches of the Olympics are to be held in Shanghai. I came to know of this after arriving in Shanghai.In view of this, the possibility of a direct attack in Shanghai too has to be taken into account in the planning).

What kind of diversionary attacks can one expect?

Kidnapping of Chinese nationals, officials and diplomats, hijacking, explosions on board Chinese planes and terrorist strikes in public places in Xinjiang.

What kind of direct attacks can one expect?

Attacks involving the use of hand-held weapons or explosives inside the stadia, in the games village and other places of stay, attacks on public transport such as the metro and attacks from air similar to 9/11.

How to prevent diversionary attacks?

  1. Stepped up coverage of HUMINT and TECHINT inside China, particularly in the Tibetan-inhabited areas, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

  2. Stepped up physical security in these areas for hard as well as soft targets.

  3. Stepped up policing in the form of watch on new arrivals, enquiries at hotels and other places, random checking of identity documents in public places etc.

  4. Intense police-community interactions.

  5. Repeated appeals to the people to report to the police any suspicious activities or the presence of suspicious objects.

  6. Stepped-up physical security for Chinese diplomatic and consular missions abroad and for the flights of Chinese airlines and Chinese ships touching international ports.

How to prevent direct attacks in Beijing?

No terrorist organisation—not even Al Qaeda— can succeed in Beijing without some local support and without some penetration. The direct threat in Beijing—if it comes about— will most probably come from a jihadi organisation. The local support will, therefore, be most likely from local Muslims—Uighurs or Huis. The links of the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan with Al Qaeda are well known though details are not available. The Huis are loyal to China, but they may still act as local supporters due to considerations of Islamic solidarity. It is, therefore, very important for the Chinese to intensively interact with the Uighur, Hui and other Muslim communities in order to detect signs of local support. Neither the Tibetans nor the Falun Gong may provide such local support.

How to prevent penetration?

If Al Qaeda or the IMU or the IJU or the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan is planning a terrorist strike in Beijing, it would have already started its penetration attempts. Amongst the ways of neutralising or preventing penetration attempts are:

  1. Strict security vetting of the background of all those employed or to be employed in connection with Olympics-related duties— in the various stadia, in the Games village, in the various hotels meant for the participants or office-bearers or journalists or spectators. This will be totally the responsibility of the Chinese intelligence and security agencies.

  2. A strict security-vetting of the background of all those who will be participating in the games as team members from various countries and their office-bearers. This will be the joint responsibility of the Chinese agencies as well as those of the participating countries. Assistance of organisations such as the INTERPOL should be sought.

  3. Physical security against aviation terrorism and against acts of terrorism involving explosive and incendiary material would require high attention. Generally, physical security against acts involving hand-held weapons tends to be satisfactory, but against aviation terrorism and acts involving use of explosive and incendiary material tends to be unsatisfactory. This was seen even in China in the incident reported earlier this year in which three Uighur terrorists, one of them a woman, had reportedly smuggled some gasoline into an aircraft by injecting it into a can of soft drinks. Moreover, terrorists have become adept in fabricating their own explosive material by mixing liquids of day-to-day use such as cosmetics etc. This was seen in the case of the London blasts of July,2005, and the thwarted plot in the UK in August 2006, to blow up a number of US-bound planes by taking such liquids on board the planes and mixing them in the toilet to fabricate an explosive material. It was thereafter that severe restrictions were imposed on carrying liquids into aircraft.

  4. Similar restrictions would be necessary on carrying liquids into the various stadia by the spectators. Should such restrictions be imposed on the athletes, players and team officials also? If so, how to enforce them? These are questions, which need to be seriously addressed, if not already done.

  5. Effective airport security not only in Beijing, but also all over China would be necessary to prevent an act of aviation terrorism targeting any of the venues or directed at other targets. The incident on board a plane going from Urumqi to Beijing earlier this year highlighted deficiencies in airport security at Urumqi.

What are the consequence management measures that would be required?

  1. A drill for rapid and orderly evacuation of people from any scene of attack without giving rise to panic.

  2. A drill to deal with attacks involving WMD material such as the Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo Metro by the Om Shinrikyo in 1995.

  3. Capability for rapid intervention by the fire services.

  4. Capability for the rapid mobilisation of medical services including doctors, nurses, storage of blood of different groups, facilities for surgeries etc.

This paper is not exhaustive. It just touches upon some important aspects only. Any exhaustive and comprehensive paper has to be based on a thorough local knowledge and experience. (12-5-08)

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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