A recent government report on the number of foreigners extradited from the country on suspicion of having ties with terrorist organizations is a reminder that Korea is not immune from terrorism.
The report showed that the government extradited a total of 56 people from nine countries who were found suspected of having links with terrorist organizations in the last five years. The suspects had ties with international terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida and the Hezbollah. The majority of the suspects were from Muslim countries, including 16 from Bangladesh. Other nationalities included Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan.
While the threat of a terrorist attack by foreign entities in Korea is a real possibility, there is no counter-terrorism law that deals specifically with terrorism.
Like the United States and many other countries, Korea attempted to legislate a counter-terrorism act following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. The National Intelligence Service presented a counter-terrorism bill in November 2001 but opposition from the National Human Rights Commission, various NGOs, and concerns expressed by the U.N. and the U.N. human rights organizations blocked its passage.
A revised bill was presented in 2003 with a clearer definition of terrorism and terrorist organization managed to pass the parliamentary committee but was never legislated. Another attempt at legislating a counter-terrorism bill, this time termed a basic law on national counter-terrorism activities, was made in 2008 but once again failed.
Concerns about giving too much power to the National Intelligence Service ― which would act as the control center of counter-terrorism activities ― is a chief concern when discussing a counter-terrorism law. Possible violations of human rights is also an issue that is repeatedly raised as a problem. Critics point out that an anti-terrorism law could be exploited like the National Security Law to suppress opposition.
The recent beheading of an American journalist, most likely by a British jihadist, is an alarming case of radicalization of a foreign national by Islamic extremists who train foreign jihadists and send them back to their countries to carry out terrorist attacks.
With growing terrorist threats around the world, the government should have means to effectively deal with terrorist threats and attacks involving Koreans both at home and abroad. Koreans working and living in highly volatile regions abroad are targets for terrorist attacks, as are the more than 1,400 Korean troops deployed in some 15 countries.
Discussion of a counter-terrorism bill seems more timely than ever.