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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Jan. 18)

All News 07:33 January 18, 2016

A wake-up call
Counterterrorism bills should be enacted promptly

With the year 2016 expected to see a surge in terrorism around the globe, the terrorist attacks in Jakarta on Jan. 14 suggest that East Asia is no longer safe from terrorism. As Korea can also become a terrorist target, it needs to be ready to combat terrorism, including cyberattacks.

The attacks in Jakarta reminded us of the horrifying tragedy in Paris last November. As in Paris, several explosions and gunfire rocked central Jakarta, suggesting that the attacks were carried out by a coordinated group of terrorists.

While the number of casualties in Jakarta was relatively small, with two civilians and five assailants dead, the multiple attacks sent shock waves around the world as they were perpetrated against citizens and tourists in the center of Jakarta in the broad daylight.

The terrorism incident in Jakarta is a wake-up call for countries in East Asia, as it illustrated the rising influence of the Islamic State group upon homegrown jihadists in the region.

Police in Jakarta have named an Indonesian, Bahrun Naim, as the mastermind of the deadly attacks. Naim was a leader of a small homegrown Islamic militant group. Behind him was the Islamic State group, which pulled the strings from Syria.

The Jakarta attacks indicate that the extremist group has started to expand its terrorist network into countries in this region. So alarm bells are ringing not only in Indonesia but in other countries of the region with Muslim populations.

Korea should also take the wake-up call seriously, as it is one of the 62 countries that have joined in the Crusader alliance to fight IS. In a statement issued following the Jakarta attacks, the jihadist group made it clear that it would target civilians of the alliance countries.

For Seoul, the threat of terrorism comes not only from IS, but from North Korea. The terror threat from the North has recently increased following the wayward regime's fourth nuclear bomb test.

As the U.N. Security Council is seeking to slap new sanctions against the rogue state to punish its latest nuclear provocation, it could launch terror attacks against the South in retaliation.

While Korea faces an urgent need to enhance its readiness to combat terrorism, the government is unable to take necessary measures as there is no law allowing it to do so.

The lack of legislation is due to a long-running standoff between the ruling and main opposition parties over the counterterrorism bills submitted by the government.

In combating terrorism, the key lies in prevention. Terror attacks should be stopped before they occur. This requires good intelligence. So it is essential that the government builds up its intelligence capabilities.

But intelligence gathering could lead to encroachment upon privacy and civil liberties, as counterterrorism officials have to gather information on citizens and monitor online communication.

This concern is part of the reason for the main opposition's refusal to endorse the bills. It is also concerned that if the bills are enacted, the government could be tempted to use its increased power for suppressing political opposition.

The party's concerns are valid, but they should not be the reason for sabotaging the legislative process. Through negotiations with the ruling party, it can find the right balance between the privacy rights of citizens and the nation's readiness to combat terrorism.

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